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From the early portrait-miniature on the Occleve manuscript. 








New York 


TF( lief 

SEP 22 1904 
^ooyrteht Enm. 

|CLAS% tt XXo. Na 



Copyright, 1904, by 

Published, September, 1904 



Introduction vii 

/. Where and When the Boy Lived — 

Who the Chancers Were ... I 
//. His Boyhood and Education^ as It "' 
May Have Been — He Becomes a 
Page in the English Court . . 1 6 
///. Chaucer in the Royal Household — 

Life of the Feudal Lords • • • 35 
IV. Chaucer Becomes a Soldier, is Cap- 
tured and Ra7isom:in-—LIe Marries 52 
V. Chaucer s Earnings and LIis For- 
eign Journeys 7I_ 

VI. Chaucer at Home in London — FIis 

Business Life . . . . . . 87 

VII. Chaucer and the Events of His Time 

— The Church 103 

VIII. Chivalry — The Poet^s Life as an 

Official 121 

IX. What Chaucer Read and What He 

Knew 138 



Table of Contents 


X. His Writings, and What They Con- 
tain 156 

XL ''The Canterbury Tales" . . . .175 
XIL " The Canterbury Tales ''—The Pil- 

grims Themselves . . , . 

. 194 

XIIL After Chaucer's Death . . . . 

. 214 

XIV. About the Editing of Chaucer . 

. 232 

XV. The Testimony of the Poets , 

. 248 

XVI. The Dwellers in Arcady . . , 



Chief Dates in Chaucer s Life 

. 281 

English Literature, 1066 — 1400 . 

. 284 

Brief Bibliography 

. .285 

Route of the Canterbury Pilgrims 

. 288 

Doubtful or Spurious Poems . . 

. . 290 


« 293 



By Hamilton Wright Mabie 

One of the most interesting facts about 
Chaucer is that when we think of him we 
instantly see about him a group of men 
and womenj hke Shakespeare, he stands 
out-of-doors with all kinds of people in 
his company. When we read Spenser, we 
are in fairy-land, and when we read Bacon 
we are in a library ; but when we read the 
Canterbury Tales, we are on our way from 
the Tabard Inn to the old cathedral town, 
with a group of very entertaining pilgrims. 
Chaucer must have been one of the most 
interesting men of his time. It is true 
that immensely entertaining books are 
sometimes written by men who talk in the 


most prosy way and have no gifts as 
story-tellers ; but Chaucer was so much a 
man of his time, knew so many kinds of 
people, was so much alive to everything 
that went on about him, had such a fund 
of humor, and was so fall of gayety, that 
it is impossible to think of him as other 
than a delightful companion, to spend the 
day with whom one would have walked a 
long way. 

Chaucer was a scholar in his way ; he 
knew Latin, French, and Italian as well as 
English books, and was fond of study 
and reading ; but he liked best of all the 
English men and women with whom he 
lived ; he liked to hear them talk, to 
know how they amused themselves, what 
they thought about, and how they dressed. 
He lived on the edge of the Court circle, 
but he was at home with all kinds of 
people, because, like Shakespeare, he liked 



all kinds of people. It was a hard time 
in which he lived in many ways : man- 
ners were rude, talk was often very coarse, 
there were practically none of the con- 
veniences and there was very little of the 
refinement of modern life ; but there was a 
great deal of vigorous and manly character, 
a great deal of honest and homely living ; 
and the age was much more picturesquely 
dressed than our more colorless time. Each 
occupation, trade, profession, and rank in 
society had its own dress, and there was, 
therefore, great and often brilliant variety. 
Life was a much more striking show than 
it is to-day ; and if we could recall it we 
could sit by the hour and watch the pro- 
cession pass with unflagging interest. 

Chaucer was as much interested in the 

passing of the procession as a boy would 

have been ; in fact, one reason why people 

have cared so much for what he wrote is 



that there was so much of the boy in him; 
such curiosity about things and people, 
such pleasure in looking at the show of 
society, such joy in sitting in the sun or 
by the tavern fire and hearing men de- 
scribe the things they had seen and done. 
He tried his hands at various subjects when 
he began to write, but in the end he found 
what he could do best because he cared 
most for it, and he set himself to describe 
the people of his time. He was not a 
photographer, exactly reproducing every 
detail ; nor was he a sketcher, putting on 
paper a few outlines; he was a poet; a 
man, that is, who sees not only with his 
eyes but with his imagination and his 
reason. He saw people precisely as they 
looked ; any photographer could have 
done that ; but he also understood them, 
which no mere photographer could have 
done ; and he described them so that we 


see them, which was quite beyond the art 
of the most thoughtful observer. 

He became the poet of England in his 
century, and " The Canterbury Tales" are 
what the historians call an original source; 
that is to say, they give first-hand, trust- 
worthy information about the things with 
which they deal. It is the company of 
pilgrims going down to Canterbury which 
comes into view when we open the pages 
of Chaucer ; and these pilgrims stand for 
all the people of England. Only two or 
three of them are religious as we think of 
religion ; the rest are very far from being 
saints ; they are the plain, average, hearty, 
honest, coarse people of their time. They 
are going to a shrine and they expect to 
have their sins forgiven ; but they have 
started from a tavern where there are 
plenty of cakes and ale, and the air of the 
tavern goes with them. 


If Chaucer had been a saint like those 
sweet and tender singers George Herbert 
and John Keble, he would not have liked 
the company nor would he have stayed in 
it ; if he had been an idealist like Spenser, 
he would have escaped from tavern talk 
and gossip into fairy-land ; fortunately for 
us, he was a simple-hearted, broad-minded, 
very human Englishman, with immense 
relish for all kinds of life, and one of the 
best portrait painters and most natural and 
sweet-voiced singers that ever lived. He 
was a good deal of a realist as well as a 
dreamer of fair dreams, as all the poets 
have been since time began ; he was inter- 
ested in things as they were and in people 
as he saw them, and he let his imagination 
play about them and his poetry encircle 
them as the skylarks rose out of the fields 
of Kent as the pilgrims rode past on their 
way to Canterbury. 



Because he was so thoroughly a man of 
his age, so marvellous a painter of its man- 
ners and its men, Chaucer, more than 
most poets, must be seen in the dress he 
wore, in the time in which he lived, and 
among his people. Some poets need the 
aid of commentators to make their phrases 
and allusions clear to us ; Chaucer needs 
the aid of the sympathetic student of the 
fourteenth century in England, who can 
bring that vanished age once more about 
the figure of its greatest poet. 

This is what Mr. Jenks has done ; he 
has made us see Chaucer's England, under- 
stand its habits, overhear its speech, and 
comprehend its spirit. The fresh interest 
with which he has invested his subject and 
the fulness of knowledge with which he has 
made the merry, hearty, coarse England 
of Chaucer's time live before our imagi- 
nations shows how intelligently he has 



read and how deeply he loves the poet of 
" The Canterbury Tales." 

There are many aids to the study of 
poets and of their works in these days, 
andj in many cases, these aids are so in- 
telligently prepared that they are, for their 
purpose, worthy of all praise. For the 
most part, however, these aids deal mainly, 
often exclusively, with matters presented 
by the text ; with the exact meanings of 
the words, with references and allusions of 
all kinds, so that everything appears in 
clear light except the poet himself. Now 
the poet is the chief factor in his work, 
the determining factor. To know him is 
to bring to his work the secret of its power, 
of its charm, of its unique quality, what- 
ever that may be. It must never be for- 
gotten, moreover, that the end of all knowl- 
edge of books is to freshen and deepen 
the power to feel the movement of life in 


them, and to enjoy the beauty which that 
stir of Hfe takes on; in other words, to 
find delight in the art of the book. These 
are precisely the ends served by such a 
portraiture of a man and of his age as 
Mr. Jenks has made in this study of 
Chaucer. He has freshened our sense of 
the humanity of the poet, and he has so 
recovered the form and dress of a past 
age, that he has freshened our delight in 
his work. This series is to be extended 
to include similar books dealing with 
Shakespeare, Milton, Scott, and perhaps 
other writers, and can hardly fail to sup- 
plement in a very happy way the many 
admirable aids to the study of these 






the earliest of the great 
poets who have written In 
English, and the only 
writer of his time whose 
works are still read by 
others than students of language and lit- 
erature, died In 1400, five centuries ago. 

His life was during the childhood of 
England, for we must not forget that 
what we call the "old days" are truly the 
young days, when modern England was In 
Its beginning. The life of his time was 
simpler than our own, and In every way 
easier to be understood by those who lived 
in it. Even though It is now a part of 

In the Days of Chaucer 

^'history" and studied by scholarly men, we 
must not think the story of Chaucer's time 
a matter of dull learning : there were great 
and serious happenings, of course, but 
there were also the little every-day inci- 
dents, the round of work and play, the bits 
of talk, the comedies and jests of home, of 
school, that fill our hours to-day. We see 
all these in the poems of Chaucer, for he 
shows us the living England of the four- 
teenth century, making it pass before our 
eyes as it passed before his own — good and 
evil, comic or tragic, the life of high and 
low, rich and poor, good and bad. 

In trying to make the England of Geof- 
frey Chaucer live again before our minds, 
we must first be sure to remember how 
many things were nearly the same. We 
are to bear it in mind that if we might be 
carried back to the land and times in 
which he lived, there would be no lack of 
surroundings we should find familiar. Out 
in the country, far from towns and farms, 

Birth and Family 

there would be little to remind us we had 
gone back five hundred years from these 
days of the twentieth century: fields and 
woods, sea and sky, plants, insects, animals, 
would be the same or so like all we know 
that we could see in them no hint of their 
earlier date. 

Closer study would show differences : we 
should find the sheep smaller, and the 
oxen, too ; for long years of careful breed- 
ing have made the farm animals larger. 
But only when we met inhabitants, when 
we took part in the life of town, village, 
or city would we know we had entered 
upon a different time. We might, on see- 
ing a farm laborer, be struck by the oddity 
of his dress or by the unusual form of the 
tools he carried; but until we heard him 
speak, the man would not seem to us so 
very different from men of his kind as we 
see them about us to-day. 

An attempt to talk with him, however, 
would bring out proof that "time works 


In the Days of Chaucer 

wonders." We could not understand the 
common English of that day until custom 
had taught us to catch the familiar words 
in the pronunciation of the time, and to 
know the grammar of the language when 
it was less simple. 

Beginning thus, by finding the language 
not quite our own, but more like a for- 
eigner's English, a dialect, we should, as 
we walked beside the farmer or shepherd 
to his home, come upon much that would 
be quite as strange as himself. On our 
way, w^e should no doubt take sly glances 
at his clothing, glances he would not no- 
tice, since he would be looking with as 
much curiosity at what we wore. He 
would be wearing "hose/' trousers and 
stockings combined; a loosely fitting doub- 
let, or jacket, and a hood or cap of cloth 
— altogether a convenient and appropriate 
dress, and with the addition of a warm 
cloak, an excellent one for cold weather. 

This was the simplest form of the cos- 


Birth and Family 

tume of the time, but the rich added every 
sort of adornment they could devise, as 
Chaucer's poems will show you, for he de- 
scribes the dress of his characters as if he 
were poet, artist, and tailor in one. 

When we come near a town, we shall 
find little smoke in the air — there are no 
factories, no regular chimneys to the 
houses, and wood is almost the only fuel, 
though "sea-coal," as they called it, was in 
use by brewers and clothiers. Water or 
wind turns the mills that grind the grain, 
and most other work is done by hand. 

In the towns, we see few shops, and not 
many tradesmen at work, the blacksmith, 
the tailor, the joiner, the cobbler — all these 
must have been kept busy; but the list of 
crafts is not a long one, and their business 
was carried on among their neighbors. 
Streets are narrow, because there is little 
traffic, and, being near together, the houses 
are convenient for friendly gossip. 

The shopkeeper can talk with his neigh- 


In the Days of Chaucer 

bor over the way, or at either side ; in sum- 
mer, housewives find their doorsteps at- 
tractive, and hfe goes on in the open air. 
Neighbors are friends or enemies, as it 
may happen, and, either way, keep the day 
from being dull. 

Supposing that we have made friends 
with our imaginary guide Into the past, we 
settle down i : the village with him, and 
soon find how little of the outer world 
comes to these village folk. But what Is 
brought to them has a weight and interest, 
a living quality not found in printed news. 
They learn of the outside world from the 
lips of travellers, from pilgrims, glad to 
tell the story that wins them a seat by the 
log-fire, and a place at the table ; from the 
archer who shot many an arrow In the bat- 
tle he describes; from a friar who can re- 
peat the learned words of the abbots and 
monks In the abbeys and monasteries; 
from the carters who have been with har- 
vest wagons to fairs In busy market towns, 

Birth and Family 

and brought back the gossip of the day. 
Most exciting of all it is to listen to the 
mysteries told by credulous and supersti- 
tious sailors who have sailed unknown seas. 

We find the people divided sharply into 
classes, and jealous of their rights and cus- 
toms — the nobles, the clergy, merchants, 
farmers, laborers — their sons usually ex- 
pecting to follow In the father's footsteps, 
and not only willing but proud to be known 
by their dress as of this or that vocation. 

We find the people all Christians, in 
name If no more; going to the church 
services more or less as a matter of course, 
and yet anything but strait-laced. And 
we are amazed at the multitude of the folk 
who depend on the church for a livelihood 
— men and women, good, bad, or indiffer- 
ent, and popular or unpopular, loved or 
hated, according to their lives and works. 

For the most part, the people are not 
oppressed by want, and this partly because 
their needs are few. The houses are but 


In the Days of Chaucer 

rude huts with scant furnishing ; their food 
comes from their own fields and meadows ; 
their clothing is simple in fashion and 
sound in texture, lasting many years. 
Work is not hard to find, since nearly all 
labor is such as can be done by the un- 
skilled, and because, after the middle of the 
century, the plague made workers scarce. 
Amusements are many and within the 
reach of. all, since they find their sport in 
such games or exercises as now amuse our 
young folk, or In pageants and processions, 
of which there Is no lack; and during 
earlier years of the time we are consider- 
ing there were no threatening signs of the 
great civil wars that were In the Wars of 
the Roses to make all England a battle- 
field for the warfare of her nobles. 

Altogether, Chaucer's land was a nation 
In Its first youth. There was enough of 
variety to make Its people Interesting to 
one another — variety in life, in dress. In 
occupation — and yet the old strife of races 

Birth and Family 

was at an end, Norman and Saxon were 
united In a common patriotism, and under 
a single standard the English had shown 
their valor on many a noted field, against 
the French, the Scots, or the Welsh. 

England was a nation, a young, healthy, 
child-like nation, with a child's faults and 
a child's virtues. 

But we do not mean to deal with the 
larger facts of the times; those are for 
general histories and for the students. We 
shall try rather to make you glad to read 
of Chaucer, the man and the poet, as you 
might have known him If you had been 
his friend or neighbor, so that you may 
come to the reading of his works with the 
feeling that he was a man of flesh and 
blood, who loved his books, his country- 
men, and his native land. It Is the only 
way to read him aright, for no poet was 
ever less fitted to be made only a text-book 
from which to study lessons. Study him 
we must, if we are to understand the be- 


In the Days of Chaucer 

ginnings of English verse; but the best 
study of a poet is when we learn to read 
his work with pleasure. Until we know 
him and something of the Hfe he led, we 
cannot feel his charm. 

In the first place, we must not imagine 
that anyone of the time took the trouble 
to put down for later ages even the briefest 
account of Chaucer's life. The old writers 
of chronicles were careful to tell us of bat- 
tles, of floods, of kings and warriors, but 
they could not understand that after five 
centuries we care much more about the 
poet than about the king or the great 
barons, and the battles they fought. We 
do not know certainly even the date of 
Chaucer's birth. For many years it was 
believed upon tradition that the date 1328 
was once marked on his tombstone in 
Westminster Abbey. But later scholars 
think this a mistake, and have decided that 
the poet must have been born about 1340. 

A good reason for accepting the later 

Birth and Family 

date Is this: In the year 1386 there was a 
trial held in the city of Westminster, and 
the record shows that Geoffrey Chaucer 
was one of the witnesses. In the proceed- 
ings It is stated that Chaucer is a man of 
forty years and upward, and has borne 
arms for twenty-seven years. If this was 
meant to be taken as at all an exact state- 
ment, the very smallest boy in school has 
only to subtract a little more than forty 
from 1386, and the remainder will give 
the date of Chaucer's birth as about 1340. 
But the testimony may not have been 
meant to be more than a proof that the 
witness was past middle age, just as men 
nowadays when about to vote will say, 
"over twenty-one," even if they are forty 
or more. Indeed, It is known that In the 
same trial other witnesses made widely 
wrong statements as to their ages, and 
also as to the period during which they 
"bore arms" — statements making them 
bear arms In infancy. May It not be that 

In the Days of Chaucer 

the old French word "armeez" means 
"bore a coat-of-arms" ? This was the age 
of heraldry, and even an infant might have 
a coat-of-arms. "Armeez" has that mean- 
ing in the testimony given by Chaucer in 
this very trial. 

If we had no other evidence, we might 
still be doubtful; but we find that to put 
his birth at about this time fits in fairly 
well with the facts of his life, and seems 
probable in so many ways that it may be 
accepted until we know more exactly. 
Thus, if we take the statement that he had 
borne arms for twenty-seven years in 
1386, and reckon back, we shall see that 
he began military life in 1359, and was 
then nineteen or a year or two less when 
he first bore arms — which seems reason- 
able, especially when we find that it was in 
1359 we first hear of Chaucer as a soldier, 
for we know he was with the army of 
Edward III during an expedition to 
France made in that year. 

Birth and Family 

Besides, there are legal records showing 
that John Chaucer, the poet's father, was 
under fourteen In 1324, and unmarried 
during some part of 1328; so It does not 
therefore seem likely his son was born In 

Let us then believe, until we know more 
exactly, that It was some time not long 
after 1340 that we must think of the ar- 
rival of Geoffrey, son of John Chaucer, the 
vintner of the little city London on the 
Thames. John Chaucer, the wine-mer- 
chant and tavern-keeper, lived not far from 
the river, and one boundary of his garden 
was a small brook, called "Wall Brook," 
the place of which Is still to be found on 
the map of London, since the street "Wal- 
brook," not far from the Cannon Street 
Station, retains the name of the little 
water-course that bounded the Chaucer 

It was an excellent place for a tavern. 
London Bridge, then a long stone bridge, 

In the Days of Chaucer 

with a gate-house guarding each end and 
a chapel in the middle, was, even in the 
fourteenth century, a busy thoroughfare 
over which horsemen and footmen were 
coming and going all day. John Chau- 
cer's tavern was sure of plenty of custom, 
for in those times whoever was thirsty 
must drink either ale or small beer — water 
was not thought at all wholesome. Prob- 
ably the idea had good foundation, so far 
as the city water was concerned, for all 
sources of supply were likely to be pol- 
luted by the waste of the town. 

We may be sure that the wayfarers over 
the bridge often turned aside to visit the 
tavern kept by the Chancers near Dow- 
gate Hill. From his earliest boyhood the 
poet is likely to have seen all sorts and 
conditions of men as they visited the tav- 
ern. Probably it was a well-known hos- 
telry, since Geoffrey's grandfather also 
had been a vintner, and may have kept a 
tavern in the same house or the same neigh- 


Birth and Family 

borhood. Back of the grandfather, Rob- 
ert, we know nothing of the family, 
though from the name (which seems to be 
a form of the French word ^^ chancier, ^^ 
meaning "shoemaker" or "stocking-weav- 
er") we may guess that some ancestor was 
of that trade. The name was not an un- 
common one in those times, which makes 
it not easy to tell which of the many that 
bore it were related to the poet's family. 






There is nothing recorded of Geof- 
frey's boyhood, and we must imagine it 
for ourselves by fitting together what we 
can find out about the lives of boys of that 
day, remembering that he was the son of a 
well-to-do citizen of London, then a city 
of less than 50,000 inhabitants. 

Certain things we can take for granted 
because of his later life. Thus there is no 
doubt that Chaucer was well educated, for 
we find him in manhood showing knowl- 
edge of all the learning of his time — 
Latin, French, the sciences, and literature, 
and this in spite of his passing a busy life 
in court and in the city. Where he went 

Education and Youth 

to school we do not know. It may be that 
he was taught at home by a tutor, some 
churchman, or In some of the church 
schools. We know about what he must 
have studied — languages, grammar and 
rhetoric, music, arithmetic, geometry, and 
astronomy, for these were the branches 
then taught. While we might find much 
to criticize in the old method of teaching, 
it is well to remember that from it came 
the training that made the author of the 
"Canterbury Tales," and to turn out so 
finished a product is all that can be ex- 
pected of any system, no matter how sci- 
entific. For him, at least, the system must 
have been fairly good, since it made him a 
student all his life, and a lover of learning. 
The school-days of an English boy in 
the Middle Ages were never very pleasant. 
There was far too much reliance on the 
rod as a means of education. In his book 
"Chaucer's England," Matthew Browne 
says; "It Is quite bad enough to think of 


In the Days of Chaucer 

their discomfort at a public school in those 
days. Tumbling out of bed before day- 
light on frosty mornings ; no fire, or, when 
fire came, a smoky room; long lessons be- 
fore breakfast; lumps of meat flung to the 
boys as If they were dogs; long, dreary 
prayers ; no women about the place to give 
an air of light and tenderness, but only 
frowsy, dirty monks and other men ; then, 
the dark hole [a prison or cell, used as 
punishment] and plenty of the rod — It 
must have been delightful." 

We can imagine that all he says Is true, 
and yet believe It Is not a complete, and so 
not a fair picture. While it applies to the 
cold and dreary days of winter, there could 
not be a school without some brightness. 
Even in the Middle Ages, really good 
teachers existed to make the best of bad 
conditions, to give life to the lessons they 
taught, and to enliven the duller hours of 
school by their good humor. There were 
also the usual school-boy tricks, and the llt- 

Education and Youth 

tie jokes of the class-room, for these things 
must be wherever young people meet to- 
gether. In spring and autumn, too, even 
dingy old halls become bright, and in ex- 
pecting the pleasures of the playground the 
hours of study soon pass. It is easy to give 
a wrong impression of anything by telling 
only one side of its story. 

Once school was out, what a number of 
games there were for the boys of Chau- 
cer's London ! They seem to have had all 
we play to-day, besides a great number 
that have been long forgotten. It would 
take too much space to give even a hasty 
list of them. We can mention only a few 
of the more usual ones. Thus, for in-doors 
and rainy weather, there were cards, chess 
— which was very generally played, and 
even taught as a part of fashionable edu- 
cation — dice, ''tables," or backgammon, 
besides the old tricks we know as amuse- 
ments of All-hallo3ye'en, such as "bob- 
cherry" and the like. Out of doors they 


In the Days of Chaucer 

engaged in leaping, wrestling, casting the 
stone, and especially archery, the last be- 
ing thought so important that citizens were 
required to practise with the bow on all 
feast days. 

Boys had already many sorts of ball- 
games, the early forms of cricket, hand- 
ball, foot-ball, frap-ball, golf, and hockey. 
Besides these games there were, of course, 
the regular out-door sports, such as swim- 
ming, riding, sailing, and in winter there 
was skating on the Moorfield, north of 
the city, and at times on the Thames itself, 
though instead of our dainty and con- 
venient "club skates," that are clamped to 
the feet in an instant, young Chaucer, if he 
wished to skate, had to content himself 
with the thigh-bones of an animal, clumsily 
tied to his feet — just how, we do not 
know. It would be interesting to see one 
of these old skates, of which some speci- 
mens have been dug up, and to find out 
whether there was any edge to them, or 


Education and Youth 

whether the skater merely shuffled along 
over the Ice, really sliding. The chances 
are that there was some sort of edge, since 
an old writer speaks of skaters "going like 
the wind," which they could hardly have 
done on the round surface of a bone. 

Besides the sports somewhat familiar to 
us, there were some that Imitated old 
forms of warfare, and so have naturally 
been given up. Tilting was practised with 
a stick Instead of a lance, and against the 
"quintain," instead of against a knight. 
There were many sorts of quintains, but 
the idea of all was to set up a mark so that 
If the tilter failed to strike it fairly he 
would receive a buffet from a stuffed bag, 
or perhaps be drenched by the upsetting of 
a tub of water, or would in some other way 
pay a penalty for his awkwardness. 

We may know that these games were 
really played at the time, for It was nec- 
essary to pass a law forbidding boys to 
play at "Prisoners' Base" at Westminster 

In the Days of Chaucer 

during the sessions of parliament ! There 
is something delightful in the idea of the 
grave counsellors of Edward III being 
annoyed by the shouts of the small boys 
chasing one another about Westminster 
Hall without the slightest regard for the 
dignity of the legislators who were mak- 
ing history within. 

Besides all these every-day sports there 
were spectacles to be seen everywhere — 
pageants, processions of trade-guilds, 
shows, jugglers, acrobats, strolling mu- 
sicians, men with trained animals, all the 
catchpenny contrivances that would serve 
to tempt a few coins out of the purses that 
hung heavy from the girdles of the pros- 
perous citizens of England's capital. And 
each holiday had its form of merry- 

In order to understand why this was the 

case, we must remember that in those 

times there was more leisure to give to such 

forms of amusement. In the first place, 


Education and Youth 

there were fewer books to read. The few 
manuscripts there were In all England were 
kept mainly in the universities or abbeys. 
Making copies of them was a long, slow, 
and costly matter, and there was no pub- 
lic to pay for them. Not all, even among 
the nobles, could read, as you know; and 
it was much pleasanter to listen to old 
ballads sung by minstrels than to spell out 
dry "Lives of the Saints." Then, too, 
people had to take their recreation in the 
daylight, for at night the streets were un- 
lighted (there were no street-lamps in 
London till 141 6), and in-doors the can- 
dles or torches were too costly to be much 
used except in the homes of the great 
nobles, wealthy churchmen, or merchant 
princes. Consequently most people kept 
early hours, and had time for some rest 
during the long day they secured by early 

Not only did they have more time, 
but more inclination for such amusements. 


In the Days of Chaucer 

Reading so much less, they thought the 
more of the real life that went on before 
their eyes. Where a modern family would 
stay in-doors with their eyes fixed upon 
newspapers or books, the same family in 
the reign of Edward III. would dress 
themselves in their best and be out in the 
streets or fields to see and to be seen. 

On holidays, the folks of London town 
took part as actors or spectators in the cus- 
tomary performances of the season. And 
they kept many more holidays and holy 
days than have survived to our time. 
Christmas was rather a season than a day 
of rejoicing, and its celebration lasted un- 
til Twelfth Day, at least, and often till 
Candlemas, that is, the second of Febru- 
ary. The beginning and the end of the 
year each had its observances. And to 
these we must add Candlemas itself, 
Shrovetide, St. Valentine's Day, Palm 
Sunday, Easter, May Day, Midsummer 
Eve, Michaelmas, and a number of saints* 

Education and Youth 

days, to say nothing of every Saturday 
afternoon and Sunday, for there was no 
Idea until long after Chaucer's lifetime that 
there was any harm In games or amuse- 
ments on Sunday, which, except for church- 
going, was kept as a feast-day. 

Without bearing In mind the difference 
between his life and ours In these respects, 
It Is Impossible for us to put ourselves In 
Chaucer's place and to understand his 
poems and his career. We must get Into 
our minds a picture of his home. 

The tavern of his father stood, as has 
been said, on the rapid little brook that 
flowed Into the Thames at Dowgate. It 
was no doubt a plaster or a wooden build- 
ing, roofed with tiles, having a court In 
the centre, around which was the tavern, 
with galleries. On the ground floor were 
the public rooms, furnished with a few 
rude tables and benches or stools, while up- 
stairs, reached from the court in the cen- 
tre, were the rooms for the lodgers and 

In the Days of Chaucer 

the family. Being in so public a thorough- 
fare, it was probably a busy place, with the 
coming and going of the guests, the run- 
ning to and fro of the maids and the 
grooms, the passing of serving-men, and 
the babel of loud talk, in French and 
the dialects of English. 

What better place could there have been 
for the boy Geoffrey to study the people of 
his period? To the tavern came the 
knights and their esquires, the merchants 
and the prentices, the buyers and sellers of 
cloth and wool, the courtiers and the 
monks, the minstrels and jugglers ; and all 
passed before the keen eyes of the boy who 
was to paint them so vividly for us of five 
hundred years later. 

John Chaucer, the keeper of the tav- 
ern, must have been a man of substance 
and of good repute, for we are told that 
he had been with King Edward in 1338 
upon a visit to Cologne and Antwerp, 
when the English were forming an alli- 

Education and Youth 

ance with the Germans against the French. 
King Edward was bent upon making an 
Impression of wealth and power, and he 
would not be likely to take with him one 
who was no more than a mere keeper of 
a tavern. John Chaucer may have had 
charge of the king's supplies; but as 
Geoffrey's mother was also a member of 
the party, It would seem that the Chaucers 
were not merely on a business trip. This 
journey was made but a few years before 
the birth of the poet, and Is important to 
us only as showing the respectable rank of 
his parents. 

We may note that in all probability 
the name of Chaucer's mother was Agnes, 
and that she was the heir and "consan- 
gulnea" or relative — perhaps a niece — of 
Hamo de Compton, a "moneyer," which 
was, if we may judge by a line In Chau- 
cer's translation of the "Romance of the 
Rose," either a banker or a money-changer. 
So she may have been heiress to a man 


In the Days of Chaucer 

who was well-to-do, and may have brought 
her husband a rich dowry. 

But even in London, the richest city of 
England, we should not expect to find at 
that period any impressive buildings ex- 
cept the great churches and castles. The 
houses were in many cases very mean af- 
fairs of timber and mortar, for brick and 
stone were as yet rarely used for private 
houses. Most of them were of but one 
story, and only the better class of citizens 
had added the upper rooms, then known as 
"solars," a name that is thought to be de- 
rived from the Latin "50/^nwm," and to 
have been first given to the flat roof of a 
house upon which one could sit in the sun, 
and then to have come to mean any upper 
story. Access to the solar was usually by 
an outside stairway. 

The shops of this very prosperous city 

were not at all magnificent, being merely 

little booths built out in front of the houses, 

so as to make an open counter, where the 


Education and Youth 

merchant could display his goods In sight 
of the passers-by. The counter being pro- 
tected from the weather only by its roof, it 
must have been necessary to remove all 
goods into the house whenever there came 
more than a gentle shower; and at night 
all the goods had to be taken in from these 
booths, and stored away till morning. 

The unpaved roads in front of the 
houses were of course often muddy, and 
there was little attempt to keep them clear. 
If you will look at any ordinary country 
road with its ditches along the sides to 
carry off the water that runs down from 
the high part In the middle, you will have 
a perfect Idea of the London street of 
Chaucer's boyhood; though some of the 
more travelled streets were beginning to 
be paved during his later lifetime. To 
keep their feet out of the mud the people 
sometimes wore high clogs of wood, but 
it Is probable that In the very wet days 
most kept In-doors, for the umbrella was 

In the Days of Chaucer 

to be unknown for some centuries. How 
It did rain at times! There was one year 
before Chaucer was ten years old when 
the old chroniclers assure us that it rained 
almost continuously from midsummer till 
Christmas.' This was in 1349; but at 
about that time in the world's history there 
were recorded many unaccountable freaks 
of nature. 

This was the period of the "Black 
Death," that terrible scourge during which 
millions of people died of a mysterious and 
incurable malady. There is no reason why 
we should recount its horrors, and it will 
be enough to say that in the city of Lon- 
don alone it is believed to have caused the 
death of half the inhabitants during the 
fourteen months of its continuance. That 
there is hardly a reference to this enormous 
calamity in the writings of Chaucer, seems 
to indicate that he is more likely to have 
been eight years old or less at the time 
than twenty, as he would have been if 

Education and Youth 

born, according to. the older authorities, in 
1328. To a little child the great plague 
would soon become only a vague memory, 
but a young man of twenty would have 
been deeply impressed by the terrible 
scenes he then witnessed. 

There is another possible explanation of 
the absence In Chaucer's works of any 
trace of the darkest side of the life of the 
English people. Chaucer was not a poet 
of the people. He soon became attached 
to the English court, as we shall see, and 
passed his young manhood with those 
whose lives were far from any share in 
the troubles of the poor and humble. They 
looked to their poet for literature that 
would give pleasure to their leisure hours. 
Naturally, he chose such subjects and such 
methods of treatment as were most accept- 
able to his fashionable patrons, and left to 
others the recording of the sufferings of 
the poor, the injustice of the powerful, and 
the shortcomings of the clergy. 


In the Days of Chaucer 

Green, in his "History of the English 
People," draws a striking contrast between 
the courtly author of the "Canterbury 
Tales" and the "gaunt poet of the poor," 
William Langland, who wrote the "Vision 
of Piers Plowman." Each poet had his 
work to do in the world ; and if the readers 
of to-day still delight to read the poems of 
Chaucer, and are content to leave the bit- 
ter lines of Langland more especially to 
students of literature, it is partly because 
those lines have done their work, and the 
grosser abuses that gave them their keen 
interest have long passed away. 

There has been much eager discussion 
upon the question whether young Chau- 
cer ever studied at Oxford or Cambridge. 
Unhappily, the only possible conclusion we 
can reach is that there is no proof either 
way. It is hard for us to see where he 
acquired his learning unless he was for 
some time at one of the universities; for 
learning he had in a large measure, and 

Education and Youth 

his reading was extensive for one of his 

As there Is no mention of Chaucer 
anywhere until we find him at the age of 
seventeen In attendance as a page upon 
Elizabeth, wife of Lionel, Duke of Clar- 
ence, one of the sons of King Edward, we 
may believe that he had until that time 
been a student, and may have been at a 
university. Certainly he must have had 
access to some of the few libraries then In 
England; and those of Oxford and Cam- 
bridge seem to be the ones he would find 
most accessible. It Is easier to suppose him 
a student at one of these Institutions than 
to Invent some less likely way for him to 
acquire the learning they would have given. 

But we must not forget this Is but guess- 
work, and that it Is quite possible he began 
his service at the English court without 
more education than could be carried from 
the ordinary schools. 

There took place In April, 1357, an im- 

In the Days of Chaucer 

pressive scene, In which one Is glad to think 
Chaucer had a part. Then It was that the 
Black Prince came home In triumph from 
the victory of Poitiers, bringing the cap- 
tive French king. The Prince and his 
royal prisoner came In grand procession 
through the London streets, and rode to 
Westminster Hall, where they were re- 
ceived by Edward and the court. 

As the first entry upon the court records 
relating to Geoffrey Chaucer tells of his 
receiving clothes In April, 1357, It may be 
that this reception of the Black Prince was 
the reason for putting the spruce young 
page into his new attire. We are told that 
he then received a paltock, or short cloak, 
red and black breeches, and new shoes. 
Other clothes were bought for him In the 
following month; and In December, "for 
necessaries at Christmas," he received two 
shillings and sixpence; money then being 
worth fifteen times as much as now. 





At about seventeen years of age, Chau- 
cer, probably through his father's friends 
at the court, was appointed a page In the 
service of the Princess Elizabeth, wife of 
Lionel, who became, In 1362, Duke of 
Clarence. Lionel was known as "Lionel 
of Antwerp," because he had been born In 
that city In 1338; so he was at this time 
about two years older than Chaucer, or 
nineteen, while his wife was twenty-five. 
He had been married about five years. 

His wife Elizabeth, born In Ireland, 
was daughter of the Lord of Connaught 
and third Earl of Ulster, William de 
Burgh — a Norman, as his name shows, 
and a descendant of the jailer of Prince 

In the Days of Chaucer 

Arthur, mentioned in Shakespeare's "King 
John." She was called "Elizabeth of 
Ulster." Chaucer became a member of 
the household of the young couple, that is, 
he was one of the numerous attendants or 
servants who were in charge of their 

It was no fanciful appointment, but one 
of real service. The pages of a noble lord 
or lady were expected to make themselves 
useful, and they did many things that to- 
day are done by hired servants. Each 
part of the daily work was in charge of 
special officers, and under these were the 
valets, pages, servants, clerks, who were 
responsible for seeing that their masters 
and mistresses were made comfortable. 
The great households of early days were 
very completely organized; in fact, they 
were almost independent of outside aid. 

Thus there was a body of priests or 
chaplains to look after religious matters in 
the chapel, or private church; there was 2 


In the Royal Household 

surgeon and assistants; there were stew- 
ards, cooks, "pantlers," who looked after 
the food; there was a large force to at- 
tend to the stables; and, in short, each 
department was in charge of attendants, 
who gained their living by their services. 

Something similar may be seen to-day in 
a great battleship — except that the markets 
now provide many things in such form as 
to be preserved, while in the Middle Ages 
supplies came in the rough, and had to be 
made ready for use from the very begin- 

Even the household furniture was made 
to order, and the very drinking-horns and 
table-ware had to be specially prepared 
when old ones wore out. 

The wardrobe supplies were at this 
time very elaborate, since it was the fash- 
ion to wear rich stuffs, heavily embroid- 
ered in fanciful patterns; and since the 
stone castles were cold except In the rooms 
where enormous fireplaces could be piled 

In the Days of Chaucer 

high with logs, there was much fur used 
in the costumes, both as trimming and as 
lining, the costlier sorts being reserved for 
the nobles. 

All these things had to be looked after, 
and you may be sure that the pages had 
little idle time on their hands. The dress- 
makers were all men, and the bills of the 
time show heavy charges for their work in 
the making, cutting, lining, padding, and 
ornamenting of the court dresses. 

At the table, the pages were in attend- 
ance to cut up the meat, to hand dishes, 
to offer the ewer and napkin when hands 
were to be washed — a very necessary mat- 
ter in those days, when forks were hardly 
in existence, though we are told that Gav- 
eston, the favorite of Edward 11., had one 
for eating fruit. Dinner was early, at 
about eleven o'clock, or earlier, and it was 
the custom for two to eat from each 
''trencher," a flat piece of bread or wood. 
Meat was cut into strips, so that it could be 


In the Royal Household 

picked up and dipped Into gravy and sauce; 
and old books show that for each of the 
various meats served certain special sauces 
or spices are to be served also. 

It may be that Chaucer, who shows In 
one of his poems that he knew something 
of the preparation of various drinks for the 
table, made himself especially useful In 
this way, for there was a large variety of 
drinks, such as mead, made from honey, 
bragot, and hippocras, one of these two 
being ale, and the other a spiced wine. 

Another duty of the pages was to serve 
as messengers either within or outside the 
castles, to fetch and carry, to do all ordi- 
nary errands, and generally to wait upon 
the lords and ladles, whether these were at 
home, upon journeys, or In the hunting- 

Society at this time was regulated by a 
number of customs and rules, that were to 
be learned only by a long apprenticeship, 
and to acquaint himself with them was 


In the Days of Chaucer 

part of the page's duty. There were a 
store of poHte phrases which the page 
heard from the hps of knights and ladies, 
methods of address adopted to all ranks, 
certain courteous usages every member of 
polite society was expected to know. 

Not to be acquainted with them was to 
show oneself to be "of low degree"; and 
in reading Chaucer's poems it will be seen 
that he keeps a sharp line of distinction 
between the two great classes, and in the 
"Canterbury Tales" puts into the mouths 
of the "churls," or pilgrims of low degree, 
stories of a very different character from 
those told by the "gentle" or high-bred pil- 
grims. Even in our ov/n times we have a 
similar code, though based on other prin- 
ciples; and none know better than the 
young how much patient teaching is re- 
quired before the child learns "good man- 
ners," and is considered "well-bred." 

In our army and navy we hear occa- 
sionally that an officer is charged with con- 

In the Royal Household 

duct "unworthy of an officer and a gentle- 
man." In the Middle Ages the code of 
chivalry or knighthood was in the same 
way a standard of conduct; and the page 
was the beginner in the training that fitted 
one to become a knight or the companion 
of knights and ladles. 

Supposing, for Instance, that it Is din- 
ner-time; someone from the lower part of 
the castle or palace would be sent to let 
those of the upper household know that 
dinner was ready, or there might be a sig- 
nal given by the ringing of a bell or the 
blowing of a horn. Then the page would 
attend his master or mistress to the table, 
and see that all was made ready — a cush- 
ion on the bench, a clean trencher or plat- 
ter, clean salt in the Salter or salt-box, and 
a drinking-horn or goblet. . 

When the lord was seated, the page 
would go to the door of the hall and re- 
ceive from the kitchen serving-men the 
dishes for the table, and carry them to the 

In the Days of Chaucer 

table. He offers them to those guests who 
are his especial charge, and they help them- 
selves with their own spoons and knives. 
The page also pours out the drinks, carves 
the meats, and sees that the diner is kept 
supplied with whatever he requires, just 
as an attentive waiter in a modern restau- 
rant would do. 

Before and after meals it is the page's 
duty to carry about bowls, ewers, and 
napkins, so that the guests may cleanse 
their fingers. And it is to be hoped that 
once the people of higher degree were 
served, the pages were at liberty to help 

We may see how a young fellow might 
rise in the world from that part of "The 
Knight's Tale" where Arcite, coming to 
the castle of Theseus, begins by serving 
as a laborer, "to drugge and draw," or 
drudge and carry, and then is made helper 
to the chamberlain, doing household work 
in-doors; and next becomes "page of the 

In the Royal Household 

chamber," from which, because of his 
"gentle condition," or good manners, he is 
promoted to be "squire of the chamber," 
or personal servant of Lord Theseus him- 
self. .All this, though related of an an- 
cient Greek, is of course according to the 
manners and usages of a feudal castle of 
Chaucer's day. 

So well did the disguised Arcite perform 
his duties as squire that Chaucer says: 

And three years in this wise his life he led. 
And bore him so in peace and eke in war. 
There was no man that Theseus held dearer. 

(The language of ,the quotation is here 
slightly modernized.) This seems to show 
that even a laborer might, by gentle bear- 
ing and good conduct, rise to the dignity 
of a squire, from which knighthood was 
but a step, to be won by a worthy deed, or 
by the king's favor. 

The nature of the life led in the great 
feudal castles, whether the palace of the 


In the Days of Chaucer 

king or the stronghold of a great noble, 
was much the same. The large assembly 
room or hall was usually on the ground 
floor. Here meals were served, and here 
the household gathered on all great occa- 
sions. At one end was a gallery for the 
musicians or minstrels, who played during 
banquets or for dancing and merry-making. 
The table in the centre of the room, or 
along the walls. Was made by laying planks 
on trestles, and the guests sat about on 
long benches. If there was a large com- 
pany, the tables were placed around the 
room near the walls, the guests sat with 
their backs to the walls, and the attendants 
passed to and fro in the middle. After 
meals, the tables were cleared away. 

In the older castles there was often a 
great fire in the centre of the hall, upon a 
broad, flat, stone hearth, and the smoke 
drifted upward among the rafters, and es- 
caped through a hole in the roof left for 
the purpose, called "louvre." There were 

In the Royal Household 

chimneys In many of the Important castles, 
but they were by no means universal for 
some years later. 

The meals taken In daytime were lighted 
by great double windows, set deep In the 
walls, with window-seats below; at night, 
candles and torches set about the hall, and 
the light of the fire, made the great hall 

The floors throughout the castle were 
strewed with rushes, and there were In the 
dinlng-hall plenty of pet dogs to pick up 
the scraps the diners threw upon the floor. 
The knights' other pets, the hawks, were 
provided with perches along the walls, long 
pegs that also served now and again for 

Here are some lines In which Chaucer 
sketches a feast In a great hall: 

*« The minstrelsy, the service at the feast. 
The great gifts to the most and least. 
The rich array of Theseus' palace. 
Or who sat first or last upon the dais, 


In the Days of Chaucer 

What ladies fairest been, or best dancing, 
Or which of them can dancen best and sing. 
Or who most feehngly speaketh of love: 
What hawkes sitten on the perch above. 
What houndes liggen on the floor adown; 
Of all this make I now no mentioun. ' * 

Knight's Tale. 

The private rooms of the great castle 
were often well furnished and comfortable. 
The walls were concealed by long hang- 
ings of tapestry, painted or embroidered 
with scenes suitable to the room and its 
occupant. Chaucer often describes these 
pictured curtains. Large halls were di- 
vided into smaller apartments by similar 
hangings; and thus cosy chambers were 
formed in the great stone rooms that seem 
so bleak when they are seen without orna- 
ment or furniture. Fur rugs or mats kept 
the feet from the cold floors, and a me- 
diaeval lady was often quite as luxuriously 
lodged as one could wish. 

The ladies of the nobility busied them- 


In the Royal Household 

selves much as their descendants do, so 
far as in-door occupations go, excepting 
that there was less reading, as has been 
said. They were fond of embroidery, of 
gossiping over all forms of out-door sport, 
especially hawking, which must have given 
an endless number of topics concerning the 
noble birds — their breeding, their care, 
their training. There was also in Edward's 
reign a renewed interest in the fashions, 
since both men and women labored to 
outdo one another in making themselves 
conspicuous for the oddity of their attire 
and their extravagance In display. The 
long, pointed shoes, which at last were to 
be fastened to the knees by gold chains; 
the hanging sleeves, scolloped, nicked, or 
clipped into fancy edges; the gold, silver, 
and silk embroideries must have been dis- 
cussed In the castles until the flickering 
torches went out. 

Chivalry also furnished plenty of sub- 
jects for their talk, for it had a strange 

In the Days of Chaucer 

poetical code of gallantry, of high-flown 
love-making, that undertook to regulate 
and legalize all the wild absurdities we 
read of with so' much wonder — such, for 
example, as is made use of in Dr. Doyle's 
story, "The White Company," where a 
knight goes to the wars with a patch over 
one eye, having vowed to wear it until the 
doing of some feat of arms. Another such 
vow is told of in Scott's "Castle Danger- 


It was also a common amusement to 
listen to reading aloud; and in this way, 
most likely, did the young page Chaucer 
come to write poems. The step from read- 
ing aloud the ballads and rhymes of others 
to translating new ones into verse is not a 
difficult one; and from translating to com- 
posing new poems is even easier, if one 
has the capacity for both. 

Education was not lacking In the royal 
household, for Edward had been taught 
by Richard of Bury, still renowned as a 


In the Royal Household 

lover of books, and author of a volume in 
their praise; while some of Edward's chil- 
dren were instructed by a learned couple — 
Elizabeth and William de St. Omer — of 
whom there is still a memorial, their illu- 
minated psalter. The Black Prince was 
educated by Walter Burley. Altogether, 
Chaucer was surrounded by an audience 
capable of appreciating good literature, 
and this had much to do with his career as 
a poet. 

What were the books Chaucer, as a 
young man in the household of the 
Princess Elizabeth, may have read aloud 
to the inmates of the palace? He may 
have been able to amuse his hearers with 
the marvellous "Travels of Sir John Man- 
deville," for that strange production — now 
believed to be a mingling together of 
many extracts and episodes taken from 
earlier travellers — first appeared written 
in French about the time Chaucer entered 
the royal household. There were chron- 

In the Days of Chaucer 

icles of past events which, in portions at 
least, would have been heard with pleas- 
ure — such as those written by Robert of 
Brunne or Richard Rolle; there were the 
old Norman poems, the "Song of Ro- 
land" ; the "History of the War of Troy" ; 
the "Brut d'Angleterre," by Robert Wace, 
and the same writer's "Roman de Rou"; 
there were the legends of Arthur and the 
Knights of the Round Table, and these 
we know to have been popular, because 
Edward had made for himself an enor- 
mous round table, to be used in the palace 
at Windsor; and there was the "Romance 
of the Rose," translating which is thought 
to be the first serious and sustained work 
of Chaucer's pen. The poems of Boc- 
caccio, the Italian poet, were also well 
known to Chaucer, for in his earlier verse 
he translated from the celebrated Italian, 
and all through his life he shows acquaint- 
ance with Boccaccio, and uses freely ma- 
terial drawn from his writings. 

In return for his services to the Princess, 


In the Royal Household 

Chaucer received ample payment. There 
are records that clothing was provided for 
him, and he was sure of a place at the 
palace table. In addition, from what we 
know of the customs of the great house- 
holds of the time, we may be sure that he 
came in for many a perquisite and reward. 
It was the fashion to be lavish, to keep 
open house, to bestow favors freely ; which 
is not so very remarkable when we remem- 
ber that the wealth of the nobles came to 
them without effort, and without payment 
for the goods, money, or services the pro- 
ducing classes were forced to contribute. 

It seems to have been recognized that 
the lords of the land, in requital for the 
privileges they enjoyed, owed to the work- 
ers some return in generosity. The com- 
mon people had for many years been con- 
sidered as going with the lands they tilled, 
and as being entitled in return for their 
work to some share in the wealth they 
created for those who claimed the right to 
rule those lands. 




In speaking of Chaucer's becoming a 
page, mention was made of the pageant 
that marched through London when the 
Black Prince conducted King John of 
France, captured at the battle of Poitiers, 
to Westminster Hall. The royal prisoner 
had been since held in London. 

During this captivity of the French 
king attempts were made to bring about a 
treaty of peace with France, and two car- 
dinals came from France to London to 
learn what Edward demanded. King Ed- 
ward was willing to renounce his claim to 
the French crown, but insisted that he re- 
tain all territory he had won, which would 

A Soldier — His Marriage 

have given him half the kingdom of 
France, and asked four million golden 
crowns ransom for the king and other 
Franch captives. King John, being a 
prisoner, naturally signed the treaty; but 
his subjects were not In prison, and so re- 
jected It, and the English king gathered 
an enormous force at Dover to invade 
France. He is said to have raised 100,000 

France In these years, 1358 and 1359, 
was In desperate condition. The upris- 
ing of the peasants, known as the "Jac- 
querie," had laid waste a great part of 
the country, for great mobs of ragged, 
hungry, desperate men had swarmed over 
the land, capturing even strong castles by 
mere weight of numbers, and leaving be- 
hind them blackened ruins and slain nobles. 
The uprising had been put down, but this 
class rebellion and the civil wars had left 
Httle security anywhere. The peasants, 
says a French historian, "had been forced 

In the Days of Chaucer 

to turn their church towers into fortresses," 
where sentinels remained to give w^arning 
of the approach of enemies. At night the 
farming folk lodged in boats moored In 
the rivers, or hid themselves with their cat- 
tle in underground caves. Crops almost 
failed, and famine was everywhere. 

To invade a land so miserable — a land 
that could hardly feed its own people — it 
was necessary to take with the English 
army provisions for its support. King 
Edward prepared his army as if he were 
to enter a desert. It was the "largest, best- 
equipped, best-officered army England had 
ever sent forth," and besides English sol- 
diers there were large numbers of Euro- 
pean allies from Germany, Flanders, and 
other lands then at enmity with France. 
With the king were his four sons, and with 
the train of Lionel went his page Chau- 
cer, upon his first military expedition. 

In October the great force was landed 
at Calais, and when it advanced into the 

A Soldier — His Marriage 

enemy's country it was followed by a pro- 
cession six miles long of wagons, bearing 
mills, forges, grain, and even light fishing- 
boats of boiled leather, to be used on the 
rivers. There was no human enemy that 
could check their progress ; but the Novem- 
ber days and nights were cold, and rain 
"fell without ceasing." The EngHsh were 
miserable, and labored on to the city of 
Rheims — where Edward hoped to be 
crowned King of France ; but after a siege 
of seven weeks Edward was compelled to 
march on. He advanced to Paris, and 
there met only the same enemies — cold, 
wet, hunger, for the French wisely re- 
mained within their walls, until famine 
should drive Edward away. 

During some part of this expedition 
Chaucer fell into the hands of the French. 
It seems likely that he may have been 
captured while ''foraging" — that is, wan- 
dering about the country trying to find 
some poor farmer who might still be in 

In the Days of Chaucer 

possession of a pig or cow or a sack of 
grain that could be carried off. The old 
chronicler Froissart says that during the 
two months that the English were before 
Rheims, "so great was the scarcity of corn 
of all sorts that parties were sent to forage 
as much as ten or twelve miles aw^ay." 

Another way in \Yhich Chaucer may 
have been taken is while hunting. With 
King Edward were "thirty falconers on 
horseback, with their hawks, sixty couple 
of hounds, and as many greyhounds. 
Every day he took the pleasure of either 
hunting or fishing." Perhaps while upon 
one of these hunting expeditions Chaucer 
may have come into collision with some 
wandering body of French men-at-arms. 
He must have fallen into the hands of dis- 
ciplined soldiers, as he w^as held for ran- 
som. We know nothing, however, of the 
method of his capture, though it was dur- 
ing the siege of a little town, the name of 
which is variously given, but which was 


A Soldier — His Marriage 

probably Rethel, in Ardennes, a little over 
twenty miles north-east from Rhelms. This 
was in the district overrun by the Eng- 
lish during the siege of Rheims, and was 
a fortified place of some size and strength. 
If this were the place of Chaucer's capture, 
the young soldier escaped the worst part 
of this unfortunate campaign — the hard 
march to Paris. 

Edward's grand expedition meanwhile 
had failed, and he marched to Brittany, 
followed by French emissaries, who hoped 
to make peace; but Edward refused all 
terms, until convinced that there was noth- 
ing but disaster to be found in continuing 
the campaign. Although the French army 
would not fight, the miserable peasantry 
made all the resistance possible. 

On the retreat from Rheims toward 
Paris, for example, there was a fierce 
skirmish at a village near Compiegne, in 
which a gigantic peasant, known as "Big 
Ferre," killed eighteen of the English with 


In the Days of Chaucer 

his axe and wounded more. The Eng- 
lish, two hundred in number, took flight. 
A larger force met with the same fate, and 
then "Big Ferre" fell sick of fever, be- 
cause, the old chronicler tells us, he "drank 
cold water." 

Ferre being ill, the English sent twelve 
soldiers to take him; whereupon he rose 
from his bed, took up his axe, "which was 
so heavy an ordinary man could hardly lift 
it with two hands," and killed five of them, 
and the rest fled. But Ferre drank more 
cold water and died, leaving behind him 
the memory of his valorous deeds. 

Some of the English were captured here, 
but we are told that the peasants slew their 
prisoners, so Chaucer, as has been said, 
was probably taken by regular soldiery. 

After leaving Paris and m.arching south- 
westward, Edward's army was overtaken, 
April 13, 1360, by a hailstorm so furious 
that men and beasts were killed. The 
frightened king vowed that he would make 


A Soldier — His Marriage 

peace, and within three weeks a treaty was 
signed at Bretigny. The record of the ran- 
som of prisoners names Chaucer, and 
shows £i6 paid by King Edward for his 
ransom or toward it. This amount, equal 
in value to over $900 to-day, is less than 
the same record shows to have been paid 
for a war-horse — a fact only recorded as in- 
dicating that Chaucer was probably young 
(and hence born later than 1328), and 
not a seasoned warrior. 

The length of Chaucer's imprisonment 
could not have exceeded a few months, as 
the treaty was signed early in May, 1360, 
and the document telling of the payment 
of ransom is dated March i, 1360. We 
know that Edward arrived before the tow- 
ers and walls of Rheims at the end of 
November, only to see the gates closed in 
his face by the archbishop. The siege 
lasted seven weeks or two months, so prob- 
ably Chaucer's captivity lasted only from 
early in December, at worst, to March first 


In the Days of Chaucer 

— certainly not longer than three months, 
and possibly less. 

This captivity was far from unlucky for 
the young soldier. In the first place it 
saved him from the terrible midwinter 
march to Paris, and the fruitless siege of 
the capital. And in the captivity we must 
not fancy Chaucer chained to a stone wall 
in some darksome dungeon, below the 
foundations of a gloomy dungeon tower, 
and fed upon dry bread moistened with 
draughts from a jug of stale water. In 
feudal days captives of any worth were 
held for the sake of their ransom. They 
yielded themselves formally when capt- 
ured, and were then put upon parole, or 
promise not to escape. It was not neces- 
sary, therefore, to keep them securely, and 
there was no reason for maltreating a mere 
prisoner of w^ar. Abuse of a captive was 
usually due to some personal spite or to 
feelings of revenge. Besides, It w^as quite 
possible that the next turn of fortune's 


A Soldier — His Marriage 

wheel might make the captor captive to his 
prisoner; and this tended to insure kindly 

We may imagine Chaucer, therefore, to 
have lived in the castle of some French 
lord, much as he had lived in his own 
land, and hardly conscious that he was in 
a foreign country. Undoubtedly he spoke 
French fluently, for even if Edward's 
French campaigns helped to render the 
language less popular, they certainly made 
It more familiar. 

Chaucer would be likely to increase his 
reading of the French literature, if fortu- 
nate enough to be held in a castle where 
there were manuscripts. The literature of 
France was extensive and popular ; that the 
works of French poets were familiar to 
Chaucer his later poems show. He may 
thus have made his first acquaintance with 
many of the amusing "fabliaux," or fables 
in rhyme, with the romances of Walter 
Map and Robert de Borrou, and with 

In the Days of Chaucer 

stones of the Round Table — all of which 
were In existence then — during his captiv- 
ity ; and the list may easily be made longer, 
for French literature then was copious. 

The chief result of Chaucer's military 
experience is to be found in the contact 
with active life. It gave him a knowledge 
of the types of men who made up the Eng- 
lish army. He saw in a campaign — inglo- 
rious though it was — the soldier in the 
field, on the march, in camp, in a siege. 

His training in the tilt-yard, in the use 
of weapons, in climbing ladders, in riding 
and swimming (all these were practised by 
the squires of noble families), had made 
him appreciative of the feats of men-at- 
arms, and had given him a desire to see the 
renowned soldiers of England. The jour- 
ney to France was worth while if it did no 
more than fill the poet's mind with the 
pictures of the knights in chain-mail pro- 
tected by the artfully jointed plate-armor 
that fitted the figure closely and yet gave 

A Soldier — His Marriage 

freedom of action; with the rich military 
"jupons" worn over the armor and bear- 
ing in colors the wearer's arms ; the brightly 
colored surcoat that served as cloak; the 
gay pennons and standards, and all the 
pageantry of knighthood in arms, finery to 
delight an artistic eye. 

Together with these brilliant figures, 
Chaucer must have learned to know the 
worth of the English archers. Since the 
battles of Crecy and Poitiers the archers 
had ranked high in the estimation of king 
and people. Minor engagements might 
still be fought without them, but great bat- 
tles were to be won mainly by the artillery 
— the longbow-men. These were the Eng- 
lish citizens, the men of cities, tow^ns, and 
countryside, bowmen from early boyhood. 

English archers wore no armor, and 
needed none, beyond a metal headpiece. 
They carried long "mantelets," or shields, 
and were dressed in quilted jerkins. 
Through their belts a knife was carried, 


In the Days of Chaucer 

but they did not expect to fight at close 
quarters. They did not stand to receive a 
charge of horsemen, but left that task to 
their own horsemen, who bore lances, axes, 
maces (steel clubs), and heavy Swords. 
The archers were meant to prevent the 
charge; and this they had done at Crecy, 
where their long shafts had pierced armor 
of horse and man even at 900 feet distance. 

Another sort of soldier was the Welsh 
or the Irish footman, armed only with a 
long knife or a spear, but greatly to be 
dreaded by the dismounted knight whose 
horse had been slain under him. Of little 
value until the enemies were in disorder, 
these irregular soldiers completed the rout 
when once the ranks had been broken. 

With all these, as well as with the 
armorers, the camp-followers, the drivers 
of the great four-horse wagons that car- 
ried the supplies, Chaucer became familiar; 
and by this expedition he came to know 
many classes of the English people with 


A Soldier — His Marriage 

whom his previous life had given him no 
intimate acquaintance ; and thus his knowl- 
edge and his human sympathies were 
broadened. No other writer of his time 
had so wide and so deep a view of human- 
ity, and though Chaucer's poems were 
written for a noble audience — the true 
^^gentle readers," for that is the meaning 
of the words — he enters into the life and 
souls of his characters of all degrees, and 
makes us feel his sympathy with them as 
hardly another writer in all our literature 
has done. 

Even Shakespeare holds himself more 
aloof from the common people, touches 
them less tenderly, views them with less 
kindliness. And Chaucer perhaps owes 
his breadth of sympathy to such experi- 
ences as this dreary campaign in French 
territory, when the English soldiers needed 
all their good-humor and fellow-feeling to 
help their endurance of frost, famine, and 


In the Days of Chaucer 

After his release from captivity Chau- 
cer made his way back to London, travel- 
ling probably on horseback, and certainly 
taking advantage of whatever escort he 
could, since France was then overrun with 
adventurous robbers, discharged soldiers, 
outlawed peasants, and could not have 
been a safe land for the lonely traveller. 
Arriving at the coast, he would have no 
difficulty in securing a vessel to England, 
since there were regular boats sailing 
across the channel and carrying passengers 
at a fixed price ; and once in his own coun- 
try, he would soon find himself once more 
in the household of the king. 

There were plenty of public events dur- 
ing Chaucer's life at the English court, 
and it would be easy to make a list of these, 
and then imagine him taking the part in 
them that would naturally fall to an at- 
tendant upon the king. But this takes 
much for granted. Of course it is likely 
that he was at some of the more important 

A Soldier — His Marriage 

— such as the great feast held at Windsor 
in honor of the founding of King Ed- 
ward's famous Order of the Garter, in 
1357; at the reception to Prince Edward, 
when returning in triumph from Crecy, as 
already told; at Christmas merrymakings; 
or at the ceremonious funeral of Queen 
Isabella, which was held in Greyfriars 
Church, London. 

But he may have been left at home while 
more important officials were in attendance 
on the royal outings, and after all it is the 
ordinary routine of his life that is most 
interesting. The thought of the poet mak- 
ing up the royal beds, arranging the 
hangings of the walls, carrying torches to 
light the dark halls, or setting the table 
for dinner, brings him nearer to us than to 
imagine him in his "paltock," or short 
cloak, and his red and black breeches, 
mounted upon horseback in a gay proces- 
sion through London streets. In a crowd 
of courtiers he seems to lose individuality; 


In the Days of Chaucer 

but to imagine him sitting in the ante- 
chamber, reading some old parchment 
while he is waiting a summons from his 
patrons, is to help us to understand how 
his mind took shape, and how he learned 
to make poems. 

There is nothing to show just how long 
he remained in the service of Prince Lionel. 
His ransom, or part of it, was paid by the 
king, and this may be evidence that he had 
already been promoted to attend upon 
King Edward. We know that in later 
years this change took place, but cannot 
date its beginning, unless we consider that 
when Lionel was appointed to be the 
king's lieutenant in Ireland, in 136 1, Chau- 
cer remained in England and was trans- 
ferred to the father's retinue. 

A more important question that belongs 
to these years between Chaucer's return 
from France and his appearance in the 
court accounts as "valettus," or serving- 
man to Edward, in 1367, is the poet's mar- 

A Soldier — His Marriage 

riage. There has been much controversy 
about the time of the marriage and the 
identity of his wife — controversy that may 
be carefully reviewed by those who wish 
to settle the question for themselves. The 
best opinion seems to be that he was mar- 
ried, about 1365 or 1366, to Philippa 
Roet, one of the ladies in service at court, 
holding in the queen's service the same 
position that Chaucer held in that of 
the king. She was daughter of Sir Paon 
de Roet, of Hainault, and sister of Cath- 
erine Roet, widow of Sir Hugh Swynford. 
This sister taught the children of John of 
Gaunt, and became in later years his wife, 
and from her was descended Henry VII. 

Though this Philippa is by some critics 
said to be not the Philippa whom Chau- 
cer married (a pension granted in 1374 
shows that Philippa was his wife's name), 
yet there is a curious proof that she was a 
Roet. Thomas Chaucer, who in later 
years was speaker of the House of Com- 


In the Days of Chaucer 

mons, used two coats-of-arms. One is the 
same that we find on the poet's tomb in 
Westminster Abbey. The other is that of 
the Roet family. This Thomas is be- 
lieved to be Chaucer's eldest son by Phil- 
ippa Roet, and therefore to have borne 
both coats-of-arms. Those interested in 
heraldry may be glad to have the descrip- 
tion of these arms. Chaucer's are "Per 
pale argent and gules, a bend counter- 
changed." The Roet family bore "Gules, 
three Catherine wheels or." This seems 
strong proof. If it be accepted, if Chau- 
cer married one so closely allied to the 
royal family, it is easy to understand all 
the aid he received from them throughout 
his whole life. 



Chaucer's earnings and his foreign 

So now, as a preparation for his poetical 
life, we see Chaucer returning to London, 
to enter once more upon his service in the 
king's household. All we know of this 
part of his life is taken from dry account- 
books and official entries, and now and 
then we can add to these a gleam of infor- 
mation derived from his poems. 

But of Shakespeare we know no more 
than this, except a few scraps handed 
down by tradition; and whether we can 
rely upon these, we cannot tell. 

Both poets, if the evidence is to be ac- 
cepted, were practical men of business: 
Shakespeare as manager, playwright, and 
land-owner, Chaucer as court attendant and 

In the Days of Chaucer 

officer of the customs. Supreme In works 
of the Imagination, neither lacked prac- 
tical ability. 

Chaucer's business life covered about 
forty years, and his writings never seemed 
to Interfere with his business life. He was 
employed while at home In England In 
clerk work of a minute and painstaking 
kind, and when sent abroad he gave his 
services to the king In the most Important 
matters, and had for his companions men 
,of high position. 

The first Item in the accounts that 
names Chaucer concerns the granting to 
him of a life pension, or allowance of 
twenty marks a year. He Is called In the 
grant ''dllectus valetus noster," which Is 
about equal to the English phrase "our 
trusty follower." From the amount of the 
salary we may argue something of his Im- 
portance In the royal household. The 
mg^rk was an amount, not a coin; and 
twenty marks meant 3,200 silver pennies 

Business Life 

a year — such pennies as are still preserved 
In the British Museum. Allowing for the 
greater buying power of money five cen- 
turies ago, Chaucer enjoyed an income 
equal to about $5,000 a year. 

For a young man of twenty-seven or so 
this was an excellent income, and shows he 
was holding a place of some importance, 
that he was a substantial citizen of Lon- 
don, able to provide comfortably for him- 
self and his wife Philippa. 

And when we note the dry facts of the 
poet's business life, it must not be forgot- 
ten that In with the working days came the 
days and the evenings of recreation. Lon- 
don under Edward III was anything but 
dull, even when we note only the happen- 
ings historians have thought worth describ- 
ing; and there were minor merrymakings 
and spectacles in abundance. 

Thus old chronicles tell us that it was 
not unusual for the damsels of London city 
to dance at evening in the streets until 

In the Days of Chaucer 

moonrise, being rewarded for especial skill 
by garlands of flowers. There were street 
musicians to play before the citizens' doors, 
jugglers to show tricks, even public story- 
tellers to amuse city idlers. Then we must 
not forget the trade-guilds with their ban- 
ners and processions; the hunting parties 
with hawks and hounds, riding through 
London streets early in the morning; the 
general keeping of holidays — such as May- 
day, with its dances and sports. 

All these found place, and Chaucer 
knew them, for we shall meet in his poems 
with descriptive bits proving his acquaint- 
ance with that side of life. But now we 
will briefly note the facts of his business 
career, treating it generally and once for 
all, not taking it up year by year. All the 
rest of his business life was that of an 
active, mature man until his death, at about 
the age of sixty, and was really separate 
from his life as a poet. 

He remained, except for an interval to 

Business Life 

be spoken of later, officially attached to 
the king's court. A valet in 1367, he be- 
came a "squire of less degree" in 1368; 
and four years later he is entitled ^^regis 
scutifer^''^ or "king's shield-bearer," that 
is, squire, and sometimes "armiger," or 
"arms-bearer." Both of these arc merely 
titles of rank, rather than descriptive of 
practical duties; for we know Chaucer 
was more a man of business than either 
courtier or soldier by profession. In 
1369, however, there is a record of a pay- 
ment of £10 made to Chaucer while in the 
war in France; and in April, 1370, his pen- 
sion was not drawn by him in person but 
by another, which may show that Chau- 
cer was abroad for some time upon a sec- 
ond military expedition. This expedition 
had no picturesque features, and resulted 
only in an English army's marching about 
over the ravaged land of France while 
their enemies remained shut securely in 
fortified cities, safe from attack and refus- 

In the Days of Chaucer 

ing to risk a battle with the invaders. 
Nothing is known about Chaucer's experi- 
ences with the English army, and it is even 
doubtful whether he took any part in this 
campaign commanded by the Black Prince. 

In June, 1370, letters of protection — a 
passport — were issued to Chaucer "on oc- 
casion of his going abroad in the service 
of the king," Professor Lounsbury says, 
and adds that we know nothing of his 
errand, and can argue nothing from the 
record unless it is that Chaucer had then 
returned to England from the expedition 
to France. 

Tantalizing as are these scraps of knowl- 
edge, it is only by piecing together these 
little bits and arguing about them that men 
are gradually putting in shape the facts 
concerning the poet's life. For years 
scholars have been patiently reading and 
examining enormous masses of accounts, 
letters, documents, records, receipts, and 
noting carefully every scrap that gives the 



Business Life 

least promise of contributing something 
about Chaucer's doings, and the result has 
been at least to prove that many stories 
told of the poet upon the authority of care- 
less writers cannot be true. So we must be 
patient with the useful little dates, even if 
they do not interest us intensely. 

Thus we learn from an entry in another 
account that in June, 1374, John of Gaunt 
granted ten pounds a year for life to the 
poet and his wife, probably in substitution 
for a pension that had been conferred on 
Phlllppa Chaucer two years before. An- 
other gift, made In April of the same year, 
was a daily pitcher of wine to be received 
"at the port of London from the hands of 
the king's butler," and this gift also was 
commuted into a sum of money, which later 
was fixed at twenty marks a year for life. 
This addition doubled Chaucer's salary, 
and made him a well-paid official while 
still under forty. 

There were also other allowances made 

In the Days of Chaucer 

him, in the nature of commissions for ser- 
vices in taking charge of the estates of 
minor children, and fines granted him dur- 
ing his service as customs-officer, and at 
this time it will not be extravagant to con- 
sider the poet as enjoying an income of a 
value approaching $15,000. 

For this handsome payment Chaucer no 
doubt gave good value in personal work. 
One sort of employment in which he was 
engaged now and then for ten years was 
as king's commissioner abroad. Between 
1370 and 1380 he appears to have gone 
six or seven times to foreign countries on 
the king's service. One time has been 
noted in 1370; two years later Chaucer 
went to Genoa and to Florence, being 
absent nearly a full year, and in this jour- 
ney, if In no previous one, it is possible 
that he saw the Italian poet Petrarch. In 
1377 Chaucer made two other journeys; 
and at this time Froissart names him as 
one of those sent to France to arrange a 


Business Life 

formal marriage between Richard, heir to 
the English crown, and Princess Isabel of 
France, then a small child. One more 
mission to France, in 1378, and another to 
Lombardy complete the list. 

For our purposes we need not bear 
these journeys in mind except as indicating 
the nature of Chaucer's services to the 
government. They cover a wide variety 
of subjects. That to Genoa was diplo- 
matic and commercial, having to do with 
the question of a harbor in England for 
the Genoese merchants. One to France 
concerned a royal marriage and the mak- 
ing of peace between the nations; others 
had to do with military matters. All this 
indicates that the poet was skilled in 
affairs, a man of good judgment, and trust- 
worthy in matters of greatest importance; 
for in such duties the king would not have 
wished to employ one who was merely an 
agreeable maker of verses, a pensioned 
poet, and personal friend. 


In the Days of Chaucer 

As to the journeys themselves, one 
might envy Chaucer the experiences they 
brought him. Undoubtedly the noblemen 
and king's commissioners travelled on 
horseback and accompanied by a suitable 
escort of soldiers and attendants. Ferried 
over the straits of Dover in big sail-boats, 
they would land at Calais, and there find 
entertainment in some of the numerous 
inns, or possibly with the English who 
lived in the castle in the city. 

From Calais they would ride forth into 
the open country, timing their journey so 
as to bring them by night to some town or 
city that could give them shelter and food, 
and ever on the lookout during the day 
for the outlaws who considered travellers 
as their rightful prey. Every bit of wood- 
land was a possible ambuscade, and only to 
be entered with caution. 

Upon their way they would see rising 
here and there upon a mound, or resting 
within the bend of a river, one of those 

Business Life 

great strongholds that had so often pro- 
tected the French during the EngHsh in- 
vasions — walled towns that were enormous 
fortresses, with towers, keeps, and moats; 
single castles extending over acres of 
ground, and rising hundreds of feet into 
the air, great blank piles of stone, scarcely 
broken by windows that were little more 
than loop-holes; manor farms hardly less 
fortified than the castles themselves. For 
this was the age when feudal castles were 
at their strongest and most picturesque 

In the wilder parts it is probable they 
met few people, for the villeins and thralls 
were only too glad to keep out of the way 
of their superiors, and farming labors 
were carried on usually within safe dis- 
tance of some retreat from attack. Those 
parties met upon the road were likely to 
be either travellers like themselves; wan- 
dering churchmen protected by their of- 
fice; the minstrels, mummers, tumblers, or 

In the Days of Chaucer 

other mountebanks whose calling required 
them to lead an unsettled and nomadic 
life; or the hunting parties that with 
hawks and dogs roamed over the country. 

There was not so much difference then 
as now between the Inhabitants of one 
country of Christendom and another, save 
for the peculiar customs of small localities. 
The English and the French peasant were 
much alike, so were the merchants of Paris 
and those of London; w^hile the knights 
and soldiers could be distinguished from 
one another only by their coats-of-arms 
and other badges. The armor was not 
very different in different countries, for. a 
knight was glad to get the best-made mail 
wherever it was produced. There was no 
military uniform. The church, too, dressed 
its members alike in all lands: the French 
priest was like the Spanish priest; the Eng- 
lish bishop like the Italian. 

All this followed naturally from the 
sway of feudal customs over all Chrlsten- 

Business Life 

dom. Even the method of dividing off 
the farming lands had been affected by the 
same cause. In assigning work to villeins 
and thralls, land had to be marked into 
long, narrow strips, rather than into square 
fields. One of these strips was the amount 
to be ploughed, planted, and reaped by a 
certain dependent in giving due service to 
the lord. Though this system was passing 
away, its effects upon land division long 

These considerations may tend to show 
that in the days of Chaucer foreign travel 
had something less of strangeness in it, so 
long as the journeys were confined to the 
more familiar parts of Europe. Castles 
and walled cities were generally similar 
everywhere ; costume did not vary greatly ; 
general customs differed but little. As to 
landscape, natural scenery was little re- 
garded save by a few men far ahead of 
their time — of whom Chaucer was one — 
and the traveller, unless he could tell of 


In the Days of Chaucer 

strange adventures or the marvels of un- 
explored regions, would excite little Inter- 
est by telling his own countrymen of his 

This helps us to understand the absence 
of the "travel literature" In the writings 
of travellers of the time. In reading the 
"Chronicles" of Froissart, for example, we 
find him describing persons and events 
rather than countries and scenes ; recording 
fully stories of battles, tournaments, and 
sieges, but only by accident putting in par- 
ticulars as to the general state of the lands 
he saw and the peoples whom he knew. 
Froissart was probably a few years older 
than Chaucer, and it is likely that the two 
met on more than one occasion. Indeed, 
Froissart (according to the Encyclopaedia 
Britannica) mentions Chaucer as being 
with Prince Lionel, on the expedition to 
Milan, to marry the daughter of Galeazzo 
VIscontI; and records that Petrarch was a 
guest at the wedding-banquet, seated 


Business Life 

among the princes. This was In June, 
1368. But all this is disputed by some 

From Frolssart's book we may learn 
how a dinner was conducted In one of the 
feudal castles — the lord of a castle being 
preceded to supper by twelve servants 
bearing lighted torches, and being enter- 
tained by minstrels during the two hours 
he sat at table. Fanciful dishes were cere- 
moniously placed before him, and then 
sent In compliment to be placed before his 

In this formal way Chaucer and his dis- 
tinguished companions In embassies were 
entertained by the knights whose castles 
they visited; and during these hospitalities 
Chaucer would have opportunities to listen 
to the poems and ballads recited for the 
hearing of the guests, and would thereby 
become familiar with the literature of the 
time rather by way of amusement than as 
a serious study. 


In the Days of Chaucer 

Singing and recitations were often va- 
ried by the "jongleurs," or jugglers and 
acrobats, with their trained animals, who 
exhibited feats of strength or skill, and to 
such shows Chaucer makes allusions in his 





On the authority of some statements in 
the "Testament of Love," once Included 
with Chaucer's works, it was formerly as- 
serted positively that he was a native of 
London. But this piece of writing is now 
excluded from the collection of his authen- 
tic works, and we do not know with cer- 
tainty more than that Chaucer was long a 
resident of the city. 

The greater part of his life was passed 
there save for enforced absences, when 
upon royal errands or in attendance upon 
his patrons of the king's household, and it 
Is not strange that he found abroad no city 
to rival London In his heart. 

Close by his father's home were two 


In the Days of Chaucer 

monuments of the past that even in his 
day spoke of antiquity — the To^er of 
London, that part of it known as the 
White Tower, and Westminster Abbey 
had stood certainly for more than two hun- 
dred and fifty years at the time of Chau- 
cer's first knowledge of them, and London 
was already an old city and the capital of 
England before their beginning. The 
White Tower w^as built on the foundations 
once laid for a Roman stronghold, and to 
men of Chaucer's period the city w^as 
already ancient, although we consider them 
as living in the childhood of modern Eng- 
land; and one visible sign of the city's age 
was the great fortress, the monument of 
William the Conqueror, and the home of 
all his descendants. All the Edwards had 
occupied It, and it had been ever the centre 
of England's power. 

The Abbey, called by Frederick Harri- 
son "the true cradle of the mother of Par- 
liaments," and the Hall of Westminster 


Business Life in London 

are grouped by that English writer, with 
the Tower, as completing the "three match- 
less remnants of Old London"; and all 
were familiar to Chaucer from his boy- 
hood, and prominent In his mental picture 
of the city. 

During his life a clock In Westminster 
was made to strike the hours, a mechanical 
marvel for those days, and worth men- 
tioning, as It must have been a nine days' 
wonder In London. He must have been 
present sometimes at the building of 
Windsor Castle, for in 1344 Edward III 
planned a great Round Tower to be built 
here because he believed King Arthur had 
placed his Round Table in the same spot. 
Edward Intended the castle as a meeting- 
place for the "Knights of the Garter," his 
newly established order, and also erected 
a chapel of St. George near by. To carry 
out these building operations the king 
made regular levies of workmen, summon- 
ing craftsmen from various localities, so 


In the Days of Chaucer 

many from each town, as if calling out an 
army, which reveals something as to the 
treatment of laborers in those days. 

The duties performed by Chaucer while 
resident in London were at first in con- 
nection with the customs of the port of 
London. June 8, 1374, he was appointed 
"controller of the customs and subsidy of 
wools, skins, and tanned hides" in that 
port, and by the terms of his appointment 
was required to do the work in person and 
to keep the records in his own handwriting. 

The nature of work must have been that 
of inspector and recorder of the cargoes 
unloaded and loaded, and keeper of the 
accounts of the port in regard to the mer- 
chandise mentioned. 

As wool-growing was becoming con- 
stantly more important in England, Chau- 
cer's position was no sinecure. The great 
plague had made farm laborers scarce, 
and grazing required fewer men than agri- 
culture, so more and more acres were being 


Business Life in London 

devoted every year to the raising of sheep 
and cattle. 

Chaucer at this time lived over that 
gate of London known as Aldgate, having 
leased the dwelling the month before his 
appointment in the customs service. In 
this place he lived twelve years, probably 
having selected it as being convenient for 
his work as customs official. If this work 
required him to go every day to the 
Thames his natural route would be di- 
rectly past the Tower, morning and even- 

If we do not forget that we are merely 
making believe, we can imagine Chaucer 
arising in the morning, hurrying through 
his breakfast, and making his way along 
the busy streets to his place of business. 
Then, with his ink-horn at his girdle and 
quill-pen in hand, we can imagine him 
listening to the Flemish merchants, eagerly 
desirous of finishing ''that bothersome cus- 
tom business with Master Chaucer,'' the 


In the Days of Chaucer 

king's comptroller. We see him taking 
toll of the ''tods" of wool, the bales of 
hides, or rolls of leather, fixing the charges 
and, it may be, disputing with some sharp 
fellow who is trying to cheat the customs, 
and needs looking after. 

Edward the Third was trying, by means 
of a single tax on wool, to do away with 
a great number of other charges, and thus 
to simplify business, and also to secure the 
large revenue necessary in that age of mili- 
tary expeditions, foreign wars, and im- 
provements at home. This was the result 
of a sort of bargain he had made with his 
people as represented by the first regular 

The wool trade was the most important 
to the crown of any in the kingdom, and 
with this Chaucer w^as concerned. 

After a day spent thus, Chaucer was no 
doubt only too glad to walk away from 
leather, wool, merchants, and all that re- 
minded him of trade. He would arrive 

Business Life in London 

at his rooms over the Aldgate, In the 
thickness of the city wall, and be glad 
enough to lay aside his hood and long 
gown for some lighter garment. 

We are forbidden, however, to grant 
him either a morning cup of coffee before 
starting out or an after-dinner cigar when 
the day's work was done. Several hun- 
dreds of years must pass before either Is 
attainable In England. But we are not 
forbidden to represent him as welcomed 
home by a loving wife to a cleanly set of 
rooms and a comforting dinner. For al- 
though some biographers of the poet are 
convinced that the poet's married life was 
unhappy, the evidence they bring for- 
ward to support their opinion seems to 
be entirely too slight to warrant any such 

Let us for a moment examine this evi- 
dence for ourselves, as we may easily do, 
since It consists of a few extracts from his 
poems, and a brief argument based upon 


In the Days of Chaucer 

them, and since the tradition that Chau- 
cer's married hfe was unhappy is one that 
should be laid to rest if it be unwarranted. 

First, it is to be plainly understood that 
we know nothing whatever about the mar- 
riage by direct testimony. No one has 
ever claimed any knowledge on the sub- 
ject. But there are a few passages in 
Chaucer's works in which his remarks on 
wives and marriage, and his supposed 
allusions to his own experience, are sup- 
posed to indicate his dissatisfaction. 

It has already been said that Chaucer's 
marriage took place about 1366 or not 
long before. One of the few poems which 
can be positively dated is Chaucer's "Book 
of the Duchess," for It must have been 
written about the time of the death of 
Blanche, first wife of John of Gaunt, be- 
ing based upon that event. She died in the 
autumn of 1369, during the third great 
pestilence that occurred during King Ed- 
ward's reign. 


Business Life in London 

In this poem Chaucer begins by lament- 
ing that he cannot sleep because of a 
settled melancholy and depression he has 
suffered eight years. The cause of this he 
declares is unknown to himself, and that 
there is "physician but one that may me 
heal; but that is done." 

This concludes the passage, since the 
poet then begins to tell the vision of which 
the poem consists. But upon this allusion 
critics have built up a romantic story, as a 
boy might blow a tiny film of soapy water 
into an enormous bubble. They begin by 
assuming that the "sickness" lasting eight 
years was an unrequited love for some fair 
but hard-hearted damsel — who is the "one 
physician," mentioned in the poem, that 
could bring him relief from the miseries 
of a disappointed lover. 

If Chaucer had been a despairing lover 
from 13 6 1 to 1369, either he was in love 
with someone else than his wife (though 
his marriage took place about 1366!) or 


In the Days of Chaucer 

else he was not married till after this poem 
was written. 

To combat such a vague argument as 
these lines in the "Book of the Duchess" 
furnish seems worthy of Don Quixote, 
fighter of windmills. If asked what the 
lines mean, what the "sickness" lasting 
eight years could have been, it seems 
simpler to say that we do not know. Pos- 
sibly Chaucer was a high-strung, intellect- 
ual man, a little overworked, and found 
trouble in sleeping. Who the "one phy- 
sician" may have been we do not know 
either. But it does seem that any fair- 
minded reader would find these few vague 
lines an insufficient basis for the fanciful 
structure some have erected upon them. 
Professor Lounsbury says these are "words 
whose meaning no man knows, and prob- 
ably no man ever can know," and this view 
seems eminently sane. 

So much for that suggestion of an un- 
happy marriage. Of course, if we assume 


Business Life in London 

(as some do) that Chaucer's marriage was 
subsequent to the supposed love-affair, 
there Is nothing In the lines to affect the 
happiness of his marriage one way or the 

Two more passages are by some thought 
to give evidence toward proving that 
Geoffrey and Phlllppa were not a happy 
couple. There is one In "Lenvoy de 
Chaucer a Bukton" — Chaucer's Counsel 
to Bukton concerning Marriage. This Is 
a cynical little poem, written late In Chau- 
cer's life, containing the usual smart com- 
monplaces against marriage, and a humor- 
ous admission that the author dare not 
speak against marrying for fear lest he 
should marry again; and also advising his 
friend to marry, since, whatever its trou- 
bles, marriage Is a better state for men 
than single life. In short, this poem has 
no claim to be cited as a proof even that 
Chaucer believed most marriages unhappy, 
and sheds no possible light on his own ex- 


In the Days of Chaucer 

perience. It is written some nine years 
later than the death of Philippa Chaucer, 
so even if his Hfe with her had been un- 
happy Chaucer's sense of suffering could 
not have been especially poignant. The 
poem says only, "If you are contented, why 
take any risk?" and points out that mar- 
riage is in a sense always a bondage. 

The third passage relied on is in the 
"House of Fame," and represents Chaucer 
as carried aloft by Jove's messenger, the 
eagle. Chaucer swoons, and is brought to 
by the eagle's voice saying: "Awake!" 
The poet says the summons was given — 
** Right in the same voice and Steven 
That useth one I coulde neven." 

Which means, "the call to awake was in 
the same voice used by one I could name." 
And from this it is argued that Chaucer 
referred to his wife; that she used to call 
him in the morning in a voice like an 
eagle's; that she was unkind to him; that 
therefore he was unhappily married! 


Business Life in London 

One grudges the time and space to an- 
swer such reasoning. The case may be 
safely left to the judgment of any un- 
prejudiced reader, with full confidence that 
it will be plainly seen there is no evidence 
to prove Chaucer's marriage either fortu- 
nate or otherwise. The chances are that 
it was about the same as a million other 
marriages and partnerships — with much to 
make it a blessing and some things to 

As little to be trusted are other theories 
based upon selected portions of Chaucer's 
writings. Authorship is one thing and 
autobiography another, and it would be an 
easy matter to make a long list of writers 
whose lives were anything but parallel to 
their writings. 

Of the appearance of Chaucer in man- 
hood we luckily are fairly sure. A por- 
trait of him was painted by his friend, the 
poet Occleve, on the margin of a manu- 
script. This picture was expressly said to 

99 LofC. 

In the Days of Chaucer 

be painted from memory for the purpose 
of Insuring that the features of Occleve's 
friend and master might not be forgotten. 
Of this portrait Occleve speaks thus: 

** Although his life be queynt, the resemblance 
Of him hath in me so fresh liveliness. 
That to put other men in remembrance 
Of his person, I here his likeness 
Do make, to this end in soothfastness. 
That they that have of him lost thought and mind. 
By this painture may again him find." 

It Is the familiar portrait so often re- 
produced, showing Chaucer wearing a 
dark hood, the end of which falls just back 
of his left shoulder, and a long, loose- 
sleeved robe with a clerical collar. In one 
hand Is what looks like a string of beads, 
and the other hand Is raised as If he were 
speaking. The face Is mild and grave, the 
forehead broad, the chin fine and pointed. 
Beard and hair are gray, and moustache 
and beard are both clipped close. 

The portrait shows a most attractive 

Business Life in London 

personality, and a man full of dignified 
good sense. 

In the "Canterbury Tales" also there is 
a pen-portrait of the author, which may be 
quoted, though we must bear in mind the 
possibility that In writing of himself a de- 
scription to be read aloud the poet may 
have Introduced certain exaggerations or 
contradictions with the purpose of amusing 
his audience. 

The Host, who had the direction of the 
pilgrims, calls upon Chaucer to contribute 
his story: 

*« What man art thou ? *' quoth he. 
** Thou lookest on the ground as thou wouldest find a 
For ever upon the ground I see thee stare. 
Approache near and look up merrily. 
Now, ware you, sirs, and let the man have space. 
He in the waist is shaped as well as I ; 
This were a poppet in an arm to embrace 
For any woman, small and fair of face. 
He seemeth elfish by his countenance. 
For unto no wight doth he dalliance.'* 

In the Days of Chaucer 

The allusion to Chaucer's waist is of 
course a playful way of saying that he was 
stout, for the Host was of a portly figure ; 
and other references by the poet show a 
tendency to call himself fat. We must not 
take this too seriously, however, for Oc- 
cleve's portrait is not at all that of a portly 
man, either in face or figure, and we all 
know it is quite the regular thing for 
humorous writers to make capital out of 
good-humored references to their own de- 
fects. Possibly he may have been small 
and slender. 

If in this chapter there has been some 
digression upon points not connected with 
the events of the poet's life at this time, the 
explanation and excuse are found in the 
statement so frequently made in telling the 
facts of his life — there is absolutely noth- 
ing except a few dated records to cover 
long years. 




Like all men who are fond of reading, 
Chaucer felt that he was Inclined to read 
too much; and in his poems he reproaches 
himself for burying himself among his 
books as soon as his day's work Is done. 
Possibly, like other wives, Dame Chaucer 
thought there would be nothing so good 
for her husband after a day at the office or 
docks as a "brisk walk in the fresh air." 
If so, like other husbands, Chaucer disre- 
garded her advice sometimes, and remained 
at home, with two or three candles on his 
table, his elbows propped up, and his eyes 
upon his beloved books and manuscripts, 
or bent over his writing until the small 


In the Days of Chaucer 

His tastes were purely literary, for his 
writing proves that he cared more for the 
world of imagination than for the happen- 
ings of the day about him. Even less than 
Charles Lamb — who at least gave us some 
glimpses of his business — does Chaucer let 
the affairs of the customs creep into his 

Often quoted are these lines, really ad- 
dressed by the poet to himself : 

*< For when thy labor done all is. 
And hast y-made thy reckonings. 
Instead of rest and newe things. 
Thou goest home to thine house anoon. 
And, all so dumb as any stoon. 
Thou sittest at another book 
Till fully dazed is thy look. 
And livest thus as an hermyte 
Although thine abstinence is lyte." 

These lines are supposed to be said to 

Chaucer by the same eagle of Jove who 

is represented as having cried to him 

*'Awake!" as already told. They show us 


Public Events — The Church 

the poet In the occupation which meant 
most to us. The so-called "practical" part 
of his life — the money-making, business 
side — has left no trace except a stray line 
here and there in the musty records of a 
dead time. But Chaucer's porlngs over 
the pages of his little library brought about 
the creation of a literature, and added to 
that literature the eternal treasure of his 
own poems. 

Which then were the truly productive, 
valuable hours of his life? 

So far as we are concerned the life of 
Phlllppa Chaucer was of value only so far 
as she may have helped or hindered her 
husband in his making of literature; and 
of their children we likev/Ise take little 
heed. From the dedication of Chaucer's 
treatise on the use of the "Astrolabe" — 
an instrument that for most of the world 
to-day Is hardly more than a word In the 
dictionary — to his son Lewis, then ten 
years old, we learn all we know of one 

In the Days of Chaucer 

child. From the evidence of the coats-of- 
arms and a remark by a neighbor, we con- 
clude that Thomas Chaucer, a man of con- 
siderable distinction in after years, was 
also a son of Geoffrey and Philippa; but 
that is the entire amount of knowledge we 
have of the poet's family. 

They are dead, in every respect; the 
poet's works are to us as alive as they were 
to the poet himself. 

It is remarkable how little connection 
can be traced between Chaucer's writings 
and the happenings of the time. In 1369 
the death of Blanche gave rise to the 
"Book of the Duchess," with its exquisite 
lament over the death of a beloved wife; 
but there is no chronicle by Chaucer show- 
ing that he was moved to poetical expres- 
sion by the death of Queen Philippa, of 
Lionel, his old master, of the Black Prince, 
or of the great King Edward himself. 
The poet could not have been in any re- 
spect a "poet-laureate" to the royal family. 

Public Events — The Church 

There was no actual poet-laureate until the 
times of the Stuarts, though Chaucer has 
often been mentioned as the first of the 
poets-laureate of England. All of these 
distinguished people must have been his 
friends, and yet he writes nothing of their 
lives or their deaths. 

And so of historical events. During . 
Chaucer's manhood England was in a tur- \ 
moil of changing opinions, and of stirring 1 
happenings, domestic and foreign. Three ,' 
great plagues devastated the land; and in 
all Chaucer's thousands of lines there Is 
but one side-glance referring to them, and 
that is in a satirical remark about the gains 
made "in pestilence'* by the Doctor of 
Physic, one of the Canterbury Pilgrims. { 

Shakespeare finds plenty to tell us about 
Jack Cade's rebellion afer over a hundred 
years had passed ; but Chaucer, living, so 
far as we know, in the very city of Lon- 
don when the thousands of Tyler's men 
captured the city, defied the king's officers, 

In the Days of Chancer 

burned public buildings, broke into the 
Tower, and murdered the primate of all 
England — Chaucer has nothing to write 
of all this, except to compare the noise 
made in the pursuit of a fox with the 
shouts of the rioters when in pursuit of a 
Fleming or Flanders merchant. 

John Wycliffe, the great reformer of 
the English Church, finished his translation 
of the Bible when Chaucer was about forty 
years old. Even if we might see nothing 
strange in a poet's ignoring the active life 
about him and refusing to comment upon 
political events, we w^ould expect any man 
of thoughtful nature and serious mind to 
show himself moved by the efforts of a 
great teacher to purify religion and reform 
the church. Yet there is not the slightest 
proof upon which we can make the as- 
sertion that Chaucer was even a follower 
of Wycliffe or a believer In him or his 

We can from his poems argue certain 


Public Events — The Church 

opinions, but there is nothing definite to 
connect the two men, though both were at 
one time or another conducting business 
matters for the court at home and abroad, 
and both were trying by their writings to 
spread the use of English as against Latin 
and French. There is no way to explain 
Chaucer's complete disregard of the great 
movement in which Wycliffe was leader 
except by the statement that as a poet 
Chaucer did not find himself interested in 
such matters unless they took living shape 
in the men and women whose stories are 
told in his verses. 

As a soldier Chaucer did not consider 
himself or his campaigns worth reference 
In his poems ; and the fortunes of the Eng- 
lish rule in France he likewise ignored, 
though besides taking part In two expedi- 
tions Chaucer was a citizen of London 
from the time of Edward's first great vic- 
tory to the complete loss of the French 


In the Days of Chaucer 

But there is no need to lengthen the cata- 
logue, when the whole matter can be 
summed up by saying that Chaucer the 
man and Chaucer the poet seem two dis- 
tinct individuals. It will not do to say that 
all these great events did not interest him ; 
but certainly they did not seem to him sub- 
jects for his verse. Others who wrote verse 
at the time found their inspiration just 
where Chaucer never sought it. Langland 
used his pen to show the woes of the peo- 
ple ; Gower, Chaucer's friend, found many 
a lesson for preaching in verse; but Geof- 
frey, the son of John the Vintner, chose to 
create pictures in words and to interpret 
between his own time and the days that 
were to come. 

This, as Chaucer did it, was a work in 
which he had no forerunners. Those from 
whom he learned the art of writing verse 
had devoted themselves to far different 
subjects. As Taine points out, there were 
two great ideas that ruled the minds of 

Public Events — The Church 

men and fixed the forms In which writers 
expressed their thoughts up to the time of 
Chaucer. One was rehgion, the other was 
chivalry; one ruled the inner life, the other 
the life of action. To one or the other all 
poetry was devoted, and the poet must 
either preach in verse or he must sing songs 
of the knights or their ladies or recount the 
deeds of ancient heroes; and whether 
preaching his sermon or singing his ballad, 
the poet must obey the rules laid down for 
his guidance. 

The native literature was cast in a few 
fixed forms. The writers of history re- 
corded the little that was known of the 
past in rhymed chronicles; and it was sel- 
dom that a poet of unusual power, like 
Lawrence Minot, a northern writer who 
wrote in praise of Edward III and his vic- 
tories, was able to put some life into his 
record of battles, and to show such skill in 
his rhyming and verse-making as to make 

In the Days of Chaucer 

his chronicle worth reading apart from the 
facts set down. 

From the chronicle or rhymed history 
grew such satirical poetry as was written 
by Langland In his ''Vision of Piers Plow- 
man." This was an account in verse of 
the state of the people of England, made 
an allegory by giving fictitious names to 
the characters Introduced, as In the title. 
And with the chroniclers, with MInot and 
Langland, must be mentioned the great 
Scottish poet, John Barbour, archdeacon 
of Aberdeen, who told In verse the adven- 
tures of Bruce, and became the source 
from which Sir Walter Scott drew many 
Incidents In his poems. 

All these may be considered the literary 
descendants of the old monks who made 
It a duty to hand down to future ages the 
notable events of theit times. They wrote 
with little thought of taking or giving lit- 
erary pleasure in their work, and were 
rather the world's diary-keepers than true 


Public Events — The Church 

men of letters. If they chose to put their 
histories into verse, it was because that 
was the habit of their predecessors, a habit 
handed down from the days when history 
was put in rhyme, that it might be learned 
by heart. If their verse sometimes had 
the qualities of true poetry it was because 
some men must do well whatever task is 
laid on them. 

With Chaucer's friend, John Gower, be- 
gins the conquest of the field of poetry by 
the English language. Gower's three long 
poems were written in three languages, 
first French, then Latin, and then, after 
Chaucer had shown the way, in English. 

Gower's French poem was a sermon ; his 
Latin poem was a moral allegory telling 
of the rising of the people under Tyler, 
Jack Straw, and John Ball the Priest; and 
his English poem is a collection of tales in 
verse illustrating that "love" which was 
the topic of chivalrous romances. Lowell 
finds Gower's work painfully dull and 


In the Days of Chaucer 

monotonous, and, by contrast with Chau- 
cer's, Gower's poems help to show how 
great were the poems of his rival. 

From all these Chaucer learned little; 
but from the French and Italian writers 
he acquired much that enabled him to 
record in fitting form what his own clear 
mind noted in the world around him, in 
the people of his time. 

It has been said that one land differed 
not more but rather less from another than 
the same lands differ to-day. But when 
we come to look at the people of a single 
nation, to consider the inhabitants of 
Chaucer's England, we shall find differ- 
ences among them so great that we can 
with difficulty imagine the social state of 
the time. 

And first of the great cleavages divid- 
ing Englishmen is that made by the 
Church. All are either clerical or secular. 
A barrier between these exists everywhere, 
marking off churchmen from laymen. 

Public Events — The Church 

There Is, In most of the world, no such 
division to-day. Then, the Church and Its 
people were everywhere, and they were 
divided In every way from the rest of the 
world. They had their cathedrals, their 
churches, their abbeys, their monasteries, 
their courts. They had their own govern- 
ment, with Its officials great and small. 
They had their own laws, customs, priv- 
ileges, and rights — and even in costume 
they were distinguished from all around 

It Is hard for us to keep In mind the 
many classes Into which the men of the 
Church were divided — the monks, the 
friars, the parsons, the pardoners, the sum- 
moners, the priests, the abbots, the deacons 
— there seems no end to the list. And each 
was sharply and clearly defined to the peo- 
ple of Chaucer's days. He will teach us to 
know something of them; but It Is quite 
impossible for us to know these men as 
they were known then throughout Europe. 

In the Days of Chaucer 

We must not forget, however, that these 
men were everywhere — in the streets, 
churches, shops, roads, and fields — and 
that each was known at sight for what he 
was. They were English, it is true, and 
among them there were many truly pa- 
triotic and loyal citizens ; but far too many 
held their allegiance to the Church to be 
of first importance. 

Had the Church then been in a sound 
and wholesome state it might have made 
this army of churchmen an influence for 
the highest good ; but during Chaucer's life 
the Church in England was corrupt and 
weak, despite the efforts of such men as 
Wycliffe to reform its abuses. The wealth 
of England was largely controlled by re- 
ligious corporations; and this meant that 
the lands and the people were held in 
virtual bondage to a master that oppressed 
them under pretence of gaining wealth for 
sacred purposes, and meanwhile supported 
an enormous number of non-producers out 

Public Events — The Church 

of the rents, rates, tithes, and charges col- 
lected from the workers and tradesmen. 

Many churchmen did useful work, for 
they had charge of the services, they taught 
In the colleges and schools, they conducted 
the hospitals and almshouses. But there 
were not places enough for all, and many 
were driven to unworthy methods In order 
to make a living. On the other hand, there 
were priests who lived as laymen did, and 
provoked criticism by their worldllness. 
They became dandified In dress, spent too 
much time In hunting and social pleasures, 
frequented the Inns, and consorted with the 
nobles and the rich. 

The monks, gatheredT into great commu- 
nities under the rule of their own chiefs 
the abbots, considered themselves to be un- 
der the direct control of the pope and Inde- 
pendent of the Church officials in England; 
and this came to be the rule. This resulted 
in their being such as their abbots made 
them, and good or bad accordingly. 

In the Days of Chaucer 

The life in monasteries was not easy, but 
proved attractive to those who preferred 
the certainties of the cloister to the trials 
of life outside. The monks taught, kept 
the business accounts of their order, wrote 
the chronicles based upon information sent 
to them in letters or gathered from visiting 
travellers, illuminated the service-books, at- 
tended to the affairs of the monastery, its 
store-rooms, kitchens, stables, and yards, or 
went abroad to collect rents, transact busi- 
ness with their tenants, or to oversee their 

They held religious services, and for the 
most part wxre men like those outside — 
neither very good nor very bad. 

The objection to the monasteries, in our 
opinion, lay in the withdrawal from the 
general life of the people rather than in 
any wrongs for which the monks could be 
held responsible. The monasteries were 
blessings to many neighborhoods, bringing 
"art, worship, devotion, learning, often in 

Public Events — The Church 

the highest form at that time attainable, to 
a man's very doors." They civilized whole 
communities, so long as they remained 
sound and uncorrupt. 

But the monasteries became too popular 
and too rich. Their friends showered 
gifts upon them, until altogether they held 
about a third of all the land and all the 
tithes of England. 

With wealth the monasteries became ab- 
sorbed more and more in the worldly side 
of their life. There was little leisure left 
for religious duties when the day's work 
was made up so largely of business and 
money-making. The abbot was the head 
of a great estate, and the minor officials 
were his assistants In managing farms, 
sheep-runs, houses, bridges. The old Idea 
of their life was gone, and with It went 
much that had led to their prosperity. 

As monks lost spiritual power, the order 
of friars arose. "Wherever people were 
wont to gather over the length and breadth 

In the Days of Chaucer 

of the land — at fair, at market, at joust, at 
morrice dance, at pilgrimage, at village fes- 
tival — there was the friar to be found 
preaching in homely and telling fashion. 
. . . The true and deep revival of per- 
sonal religion all over Europe in the thir- 
teenth century is in the main the work of 
the friars." So says Wakeman, the Church 
historian before quoted; but he is speaking 
of the early days of the order. 

For they, too, soon lost their unselfish 
motives, and the friars became a set of 
worthless, tramping, begging vagabonds, 
preying upon the decent folk and living in 
vicious idleness. 

Such were some of the churchmen Chau- 
cer satirized. 





The second great influence of the Mid- 
dle Ages, the institution known as Chiv- 
alry, had reached its greatest development 
somewhat earlier than during Chaucer's 
mature years. Under Edward III the ex- 
ternal forms yet remained — the knights, 
squires, heralds, tournaments, pages — but 
their power over the minds of men w^as 
lessened. The young man who hoped for 
distinction as a soldier began, as we have 
seen in Chaucer's case, to serve as page to 
a knight or lady, was promoted to be an 
esquire, and might then, by the elaborate 
religious ceremony so often described, be- 
come a knight; or in special cases, as for a 
deed of valor on the battlefield, the honor 


In the Days of Chaucer 

might be conferred by the mere "accolade,'* 
or sword stroke. 

But in a country so highly developed as 
England in the reign of King Edward 
there were many other avenues to distinc- 
tion than the path of chivalry. Great mer- 
chants, by trade and commerce, acquired 
wealth and social prominence; scholars 
gained respect through their learning; and 
even some writers attained eminence, 
though rather as a matter of popularity 
than of respect. 

The writer who gave himself, as Chau- 
cer did, to pure literature rather than to 
some form of sermonizing could hardly be 
expected to attain more than an increase of 
the kindly regard that was due to the min- 
strels or other entertainers. 

Poetry had its place in chivalry, for it 
was cultivated together with music as part 
of the equipment of accomplished knight- 
hood. The minstrel who sang the exploits 
of knights, modern or ancient, was a w^el- 


Chivalry — Official Life 

come guest in the feudal castles. The story 
of the rescue of King Richard by the min- 
strel Blondel, even if not historical, shows 
the relation of the minstrel to those who 
held the highest ranks. 

But as chivalry began in connection with 
warfare, so its rules and customs were 
always based upon military life, and the 
training of page, esquire, and knight looked 
to distinction in arms. The Church, per- 
vading all mediaeval life, strove to count 
chivalry an ally of religion, and gave rules 
to the knights, making their romantic code 
a Christian code as well. 

Even on the battlefield the rules of chiv- 
alry were not disregarded, and a code of 
honor forbade cruelty or treachery to those 
who were within its provisions. For it 
must not be forgotten that the rules were 
primarily to govern the relation of knights 
to one another. A knight was bound to 
keep his plighted word on pain of losing 
the privileges of his rank. If set free on 

In the Days of Chaucer 

parole, he must loyally redeem himself by 
paying his ransom or returning to captiv-. 
ity. An instance of this was seen in the 
return to England of John, King of 
France, when his nation had refused to 
pay the ransom demanded by Edward III. 

It is impossible and unnecessary to give 
here a full account of even the main feat- 
ures of the institution of chivalry; but the 
reader of Chaucer must understand that it 
was still a living force during his lifetime^ 
and that it was a large factor in the sub- 
jects chosen by the poet. Among his poems 
chivalry is a chief element in "The Ro- 
mance of the Rose," "Troilus and Cri- 
seyde," many of the "Canterbury Tales," 
and to knighthood, the tournament, and 
the four ideals of chivalry — "valor, loy* 
alty, courtesy, and munificence" — there are 
references everywhere. 

Of the effect wrought upon the social 
life by chivalry there are widely differing 
opinions. The sentiments of Edmund 

Chivalry — Official Life 

Burke, It has been pointed out, are at abso- 
lute variance with Edward Freeman's ver- 
dict. Burke says: "Never, never more 
shall we behold that generous loyalty to 
rank and sex, that proud submission, that 
dignified obedience, that subordination of 
the heart which kept alive, even In servi- 
tude Itself, the spirit of an exalted free- 
dom"; and he speaks also of "that sensi- 
bility of principle, that chastity of honor 
which felt a stain like a wound, which 
inspired courage while it mitigated ferocity, 
which ennobled whatever it touched, and 
under which vice itself lost half Its evil by 
losing all its grossness." 

Now let us hear the view of Edward 
Freeman : 

"The chivalrous spirit Is above all a 
class spirit. The good knight Is bound to 
endless fantastic courtesies toward men, 
and still more toward women of a certain 
rank; he may treat all below that rank 
with any degree of scorn and cruelty. The 

In the Days of Chaucer 

spirit of chivalry implies the arbitrary- 
choice of one or two virtues, to be prac- 
tised in such an exaggerated degree as to 
become vices, while the ordinary laws of 
right and wrong are forgotten. The false 
code of honor supplants the laws of the 
commonwealth, the law of God, and the 
eternal principles of right." 

The clear-minded Chaucer saw both the 
good and the evil in the institutions of his 
time; and, by means of setting before us 
the good churchman and the bad, the noble 
knight and the unchivalrous soldier, he 
shows the strength and the weakness of 
both systems. Chaucer is thus more mod- 
ern in spirit than Edmund Spenser; for 
Spenser's "Faerie Queene" is a resurrection 
of a state of things that had long passed, 
while Chaucer, though writing during the 
life of chivalry, sees the knight as he really 
is, and finds him purely human rather than 
the imagined ideal which Spenser paints 
for us. 


Chivalry — Official Life 

Chaucer's attitude may have come from 
the fact that while he saw both the Church 
and chivalry, he was identified with neither. 
Chaucer was a London business-man dur- 
ing the greater part of his maturity. We 
have seen him employed about such prosaic 
matters as leather and hides, and dealing 
daily with merchants, sailors, and govern- 
ment officials. Amid these occupations he 
remained, for the appointment as Comp- 
troller of the Petty Customs in 1382 was 
rather a promotion than a change of em- 
ployment. Even the trips abroad, from 
his thirtieth to his thirty-eighth year, were 
all practical in their nature; and when 
these ceased he remained in London en- 
gaged in civil duties. Thus, in 1389, we 
find him appointed Clerk" of Works, and 
in 1390 he has charge, with others, of re- 
pairing the roadways along the banks of 
the Thames ; in the same year he is named 
as one of two Foresters to North Pether- 
ton Park, in Somersetshire, and becomes 

In the Days of Chaucer 

sole Forester in 1398 — an office held by 
Thomas Chaucer under Henry V in 141 7, 
which may strengthen the belief that this 
Thomas was Geoffrey's son. 

If we add to these few particulars the 
facts that Chaucer had charge of the ar- 
rangements for a grand tournament held at 
Smithfield in 1390, being allowed his 
charges in erecting scaffolds; and that in 
1386 he was a member of Parliament, we 
shall have recorded all that is known of 
his life as an official. 

Of his personal adventures there is an 
interesting record. We find that during 
1390 the Clerk of the Works, Geoffrey 
Chaucer, was twice set upon by highway 
robbers — "an adventure,'' says Professor 
Lounsbury^ "which entered so frequently 
into the experience of our ancestors that 
without at least one of them the life of a 
man of position could hardly have been 
deemed complete." Both robberies oc- 
curred on the same day, September 6th, 

Chivalry — Official Life 

once at Westminster and once at Hatcham, 
''near the foul oak." Chaucer lost nearly 
£20 of public funds, besides his horse and 
other things; but he seems to have been 
held blameless, for he was not required to 
repay the money. When this could hap- 
pen so near London we may Imagine the 
dangers besetting travellers In the open 
country, and understand the necessity for 
an armed escort to men worth pillaging. 

Among other documents referring to 
Chaucer's life In London one recently came 
to light showing that a certain Cecilia 
Chaumpagne, In 1380, signed a bond of re- 
lease promising not to prosecute him for 
carrying her off. Professor Lounsbury 
points out that for any criminal act this 
release could not have been legal, and re- 
minds us that It was not uncommon, not 
only then but for many years later, to carry 
off heiresses In order to marry them. Pro- 
fessor Lounsbury believes, therefore, that 
Chaucer was merely the accessory to an 

In the Days of Chaucer 

attempted elopement; and this seems to 
be justified by the fact that Chaucer was 
never held in higher estimation than in 
the years immediately succeeding this oc- 

It would be convenient to defer the men- 
tion of these happenings until they could 
be brought out one by one in connection 
with the poet's literary life. But, unfortu- 
nately, the dates of his writings cannot be 
fixed with sufficient certainty to tell Chau- 
cer's whole life in a single direct narrative. 
Some of his poems were in his hands for 
several years, and so it is easier to treat the 
events of his life separately and then to 
refer back to them when speaking of the 
composition of the poems. 

We shall therefore try in this chapter to 
note briefly the main happenings that took 
place during the rest of the poet's life, and 
shall then take up his works and the topics 
suggested more directly by them, including 
in the later chapters such events as belong 

Chivalry — Official Life 

more especially to the Influences affecting 
his writings. 

Chaucer's business life In London, from 
1374 to 1400, covered the period of the 
death of Edward III, the whole reign of 
Richard II, and two years of the reign of 
Henry IV. The Black Prince died in 1376, 
Edward III In 1377, and Richard came 
to the throne In the same year. Richard's 
reign was anything but a glorious time for 
England. The French and Spaniards were 
supreme at sea, and often attacked the 
English coasts — they Invaded the Isle of 
Wight and burned Hastings, Poole, Ports- 
mouth, and other towns, being only now 
and then repulsed by the people under some 
brave nobleman or churchman. Even the 
clergy were armed, and fought bravely. 
The Scots also sent vessels against Eng- 
land, and found no resistance until a brave 
London merchant named Philpot raised a 
force, defeated them, and for his reward 
was rebuked by the government! 


In the Days of Chaucer 

Money was needed, and a heavy poll- 
tax was Imposed. This the commoners re- 
sisted, and then came Wat Tyler's rebel- 
lion — about which you may read in Mor- 
ris's stirring story, "A Dream of John 
Ball." This John Ball was a priest, whom 
Froissart calls "mad"; but Green, the his 
torian, says of him : " ^Mad,' as the land 
owners held him to be, it was in the preach 
ing of John Ball that England first listened 
to a declaration of the natural equality and 
rights of man. ... A spirit fatal to 
the whole system of the Middle Ages 
breathed In the popular rhyme which con 
densed the levelling doctrine of John Ball : 
** « When Adam delved and Eve span 
Who was then the gentleman ? ' " 

But while Jack Straw, Wat Tyler, and 
their fellows were, with axes and staves 
and long bows, trying to conquer their 
rights, the rights preached to them by this 
"mad priest" — while Wycliffe was making 
In every way his protest against the corrup- 

Chivalry — Official Life 

tlons and the errors of the Church, send- 
ing out his ''poor preachers," translating 
the Bible, writing his arguments — Chaucer 
was, it may be unconsciously, doing work 
even more effective against the same abuses. 

Chaucer's poems, considered as agencies 
in the reform of Church and State, have 
been compared to an acid that slowly, 
almost imperceptibly, destroys what it at- 
tacks. His satire was not fierce; he wrote 
in good humor, and with a kindly tolerance 
that hardly awakened resentment in those 
classes whose failings he held up to ridicule. 
But what he said was remembered, and it 
remained in the minds of his readers gently 
to convince. 

Whether or not Cervantes smiled chiv- 
alry away, the types created by Chaucer 
brought to all a realization of the failings 
in the classes he so truthfully depicted; and 
the same forces that were aroused against 
the more violent reformers were powerless 
against the pen of the poet. 


In the Days of Chaucer 

In 1396 occurred the rejoicings over 
the marriage of Richard II to the little 
princess of France, who, at eight years old, 
had replied to the king's ambassadors: "If 
it please God, and my lord and father, that 
I shall be Queen of England, I shall be 
well pleased thereat: for I have been told 
that I shall then be a great lady." 

So Froissart records. And later he tells 
of the marriage in the Church of St. Nicho- 
las at Calais on All Saints' Day, of the 
great feasting that follow^ed, the voyage 
to Dover in three hours, of the reception 
of the little queen into London, her stay 
at the Tower, the pomps and ceremonies 
that attended her through the streets of 
London, and her reception at Westminster. 
Then there was a great tournament held 
at Smithfield between forty knights and 
squires in the February following, of which 
notice was sent by heralds to Scotland and 
beyond the sea. For this tournament 
Chaucer prepared the lists. 

Chivalry — Official Life 

And Strutt, writing of ''English Sports 
and Pastimes," relates that during merry- 
makings the apprentices of London danced 
before their masters' doors, and he notes 
that after Richard's coronation dinner the 
lords and ladies gave the rest of the even- 
ing to dancing; and we may be sure that 
on the occasion of the wedding London 
was in gala dress for several days at least. 
Chaucer, being forty-two, is more likely to 
have been merely a spectator than active in 
the spectacles and sports; but so brilliant 
were the costumes and so rich the display 
of color and lights that his artistic sense 
must have been delighted. 

In or about 1385 it is believed that the 
poet gave up his home over Aldgate and 
took a residence at Greenwich, where he 
lived until 1399, fourteen years; in the 
year before his death he leased a house at 
Westminster, upon the site now occupied 
by Henry VII's chapel, and there re- 
mained until his death, October 25, 1400 

In the Days of Chaucer 

— the date once recorded on his tombstone 
in the Abbey. At the time of Dryden's 
burial it is said that this tombstone was cut 
in two to mend the pavement; and if this 
be so one is tempted to inquire whether it 
would not be worth while to seek for the 
pieces and have them carefully examined 
in the hope of finding some helpful dates or 

Two years before Chaucer's death is set 
the beginning of the happenings in Shake- 
speare's "Richard II," and the play ends 
not long after the end of Chaucer's life; 
so in reading it we see a picture of Chau- 
cer's times as drawn by Shakespeare. 

In considering the writing of the poems 
mention will be made of those intervals of 
office-holding and reversals of fortune that 
had direct influence upon the work of the 
poet, for to note them here would make 
repetition necessary. 

The essential thing to remember about 
Chaucer's life in the government service is 


Chivalry — Official Life 

that, beginning in 1370, at about the age of 
thirty, he remained almost uninterruptedly 
at work In the city of London, except for a 
few foreign journeys. What was Impor- 
tant to the citizens of London was im- 
portant to him; what they saw and knew, 
he may have seen or known. His love of 
nature — of which he gives ample proof — 
was that of a city business-man with only 
brief time to give to the outdoor world. 

This was In some ways an advantage to 
him. His outings were during the milder 
seasons. He knew little, apparently, of 
what winter meant to the mediaeval peas- 
ant — the scant food, the freezing, bitter 
cold, the difficulty of keeping alive the farm 
animals, the gloomy darkness of their huts, 
the filth of life In-doors, the impossibility 
of cleanliness. Of this life wrote Lang- 
land, but to Chaucer it remained remote. 

The personal life of Chaucer Is mainly 
Inference, but the poet we may know as 
Intimately as we will. 




Considering how long Chaucer held 
offices in the public service it might be 
thought there would be plenty of docu- 
ments existing in his handwriting. But 
careful search has failed to bring any to 
light, though it will be remembered that 
by the terms of his appointment he was 
required to keep the records in his own 
writing. "Someone who knew the records 
thoroughly," writes a correspondent to the 
London Athenaiim, "has systematically 
picked out all Chaucer's work," and it is, 
every scrap, missing. When, how, or why 
this was done no one knows. 

It is hoped that, instead of being stolen, 
the records have been put away among the 


His Reading and Knor^ledge 

mass of papers belonging to the English 
government; and, if so, they may at a 
later day come to light. At all events, 
there is a pleasant sense of mystery in their 
disappearance. Perhaps some admirer of 
the poet wished to preserve every particle 
of his handwriting; perhaps, with a thou- 
sand other valuable mementos, they may 
have been destroyed in the great fire of 
London. We must console ourselves for 
the loss of facts by the pleasure to be found 
in trying to solve the problems of the poet's 
life and works. 

For there are puzzles to be solved in re- 
gard to the writings as well as in the 
biography. We have no sure test to deter- 
mine what is Chaucer's and what is not, as 
will be learned by any who will read the 
great number of books setting forth the 
views of this scholar and that critic upon 
disputed pieces. 

Objection is sometimes made to using 
the imagination in filling the gaps in our 

In the Days of Chaucer 

knowledge of Chaucer and his life, but it 
is either that or nothing. The certainties 
about the poet could be compressed into a 
single printed page if we confine ourselves 
to the facts concerning him directly. 

But as to his times, there are undoubted 
records enough. We know what writers 
existed before him or with him, and we 
have specimens of their work by which to 
judge of them. There were men who put 
the Scriptures into metrical form — such as 
Richard Rolle ; others, already referred to, 
who enlivened historical chronicles by poet- 
ical touches ; and there w^ere satirical poets, 
like Langland.. The beginning of "The 
Vision of Piers Plowman" will show the 
alliterative form used by Langland, and 
will indicate how different was the con- 
struction of Chaucer's rhyming verse; in- 
deed, the men belonged to different schools 
of verse : 

" In a summer season 
When soft was the sun, 

His Reading and Knowledge 

I shoop me into shrouds 

As I a sheep were; 

In habit as a hermit 

Unholy of werkes. 

Went wide into the world 

Wonders to hear; 

Ac on a May morwening 

On Malvern hills. 

Me befel a ferly 

Of fairy, me thought." 

This extract will serve to show that 
Chaucer had not adopted English fashions 
in his verse-making. Chaucer, as Lowell 
points out, began as imitator and transla- 
tor, and invented little. The American 
critic gives four principal sources from 
which the Englishman drew — the Latins, 
the Troubadours, the Trouveres, and the 
Italians. By the Latins is meant such as 
Ovid and Virgil, with whom Chaucer was 
well acquainted, a few others being now 
and then mentioned, and among prose- 
writers Boethius, whose ''Consolations of 

In the Days of Chaucer 

Philosophy" he translated, and Seneca. 
Chaucer's scholarship was rather that of a 
general reader than that of a deep student, 
and he makes blunders now and then In 
recalling the work of classic writers. 

The Troubadours, the singers of ro- 
mantic love-poetry, were of the south of 
France, and their verse w^as cast In artificial 
forms; the Trouveres, the poets of the 
more northern regions of France, were put- 
ting their own times into verse, giving 
"voice to real and not merely conventional 

The characters of these two schools of 
French poetry, both of which strongly In- 
fluenced Chaucer, are well discussed by 
Lowell in his essay on "Chaucer," where 
he asserts that It was through the Nor- 
mans that "the English mind and fancy, 
hitherto uncouth, were first infused with 
the lightness, grace, and self-confidence of 
Romance literature." And It Is hardly too 
much to say that Chaucer opened the chan- 

His Reading and Knowledge 

nel that brought this new Influence Into 
English literature. 

The Italian Influence on Chaucer was 
mainly that of Dante, Petrarch, and Boc- 
caccio. What Dante was, a thousand 
books have told and are still telling. Yet 
It can hardly be better said than In Lowell's 
words: "With Dante, life represented the 
passage of the soul from a state of nature 
to a state of grace; and there would have 
been almost an even chance whether (as 
Burns says) the Divina Commedia had 
turned out a song or a sermon but for the 
wonderful genius of Its author, which has 
compelled the sermon to sing and the song 
to preach." And then Lowell draws a 
parallel and contrast between Dante and 
the English poet, showing that with Chau- 
cer all morals are Incidental — the main 
thing being the pictures of life and of 

From Boccaccio Chaucer helped himself 
freely, more freely than from any other 


In the Days of Chaucer 

poet. The ''Knight's Tale" in the "Can- 
terbury Tales" is based upon a poem of 
Boccaccio's; so is "Troilus and Criseyde," 
while others of Chaucer's poems contain 
references to passages and translations of 
the work of the Italian, and still further 
indebtedness is asserted. 

From Petrarch Chaucer derived the 
story of Griselda, and a part of the 
"Monk's Tale" ; and Professor Lounsbury 
argues that, since Chaucer never mentions 
Boccaccio by name, and ascribes some of 
that Italian's writing to Petrarch and an- 
other, Lollius, it may have been that Chau- 
cer knew Boccaccio's poems without know- 
ing the author's name — a thing quite pos- 
sible in those days of manuscript circulation 
— and believed Petrarch to be their author. 
Other critics believe that Chaucer while in 
Italy, in 1373, visited Florence and there 
met Boccaccio. For in that very year a 
chair or professorship for the study of 
Dante had been established in the Univer- 

His Reading and Knowledge 

sity of Florence, and Boccaccio received 
the appointment, being then an old man of 

As for Dante, he died before the birth 
of Chaucer, and that Chaucer knew and 
admired his works is known by many men- 
tions of this greatest Italian; while Lyd- 
gate, a successor and follower of Chaucer, 
asserts that Chaucer wrote "Dante In Eng- 
lish." How much Influence Dante exerted 
upon the works of the English poet is dis- 
puted, but we may rest satisfied with the 
knowledge that there was considerable In- 
debtedness in matters of style and treat- 

The reader of "Chaucer" will find 
throughout references to events and per- 
sonages of the siege of Troy, and some 
note of the exploits of Alexander the 
Great, of Charlemagne, and of Arthur 
and his knights. These subjects were pop- 
ular in the Middle Ages, and were widely 
known through long-winded romances. 


In the Days of Chaucer 

The Trojan heroes and their brave deeds 
were favorite topics with Chaucer, prob- 
ably because he knew they would be wel- 
come to his hearers. 

Even those authorities already men- 
tioned will show that the English poet was 
well read in the literature of his time ; and 
in addition to them might be named a small 
library of books and authors much less 
known to us. It would serve no purpose 
to copy here the list that students have 
drawn up. It can be found in special ar- 
ticles on the sources of Chaucer's works; 
but we are convinced by the mere array of 
names that wherever an unusual book was 
to be found the English poet dipped 
eagerly into it, while with the books all 
knew — such as the Bible — Chaucer showed 
the fullest famiharity. He was, if not a 
close student, a thoroughly well-read and 
well-equipped man. 

While loving literature, Chaucer was 
alive to all the science of his period, and 

His Reading and Knowledge 

convinces us that he had an Intelligent In- 
terest In all that went on about him. 
Besides his treatise on the astrolabe, which 
he Illustrated with drawings for the benefit 
of his little son, he shows otherwise an 
acquaintance with astronomy and astrol- 
ogy, Introduces an alchemist Into the "Can- 
terbury Tales," giving full particulars of 
his magic art, and here and there In his 
poems shows by a shrewd remark that he 
was no Inattentive listener to the theories 
of men of science and scholars. 

Thus, In one place he speaks of the 
earth as "This wide world which that men 
say is round"; and though he puts the 
speech Into the mouth of the Franklin, yet 
It Is spoken not as questionable but as a 
matter of course; and this was more than 
a century before the days of Columbus. 
Possibly the word is used for circular, for 
the maps of the time show the world In 
this shape, with Jerusalem In the centre, 
and a neat ocean fitting smoothly and 


In the Days of Chaucer 

evenly around the circumference. The 
Mediterranean ran exactly across the mid- 
dle, with a part extending downward. 
Make a round O and a T inside of it and 
you will have the mediaeval idea of the 
map of the world. In another poem there 
is a discussion of how the sound-waves go 
through the air ; in others we have natural 
history topics and the study of mathemat- 
ics, spoken of with ease and familiarity. 

Altogether, Chaucer's knowledge of the 
science of his times was creditable, and 
goes well with our general Impression of 
his attainments. He makes no pretence to 
scholarship or deep learning, and speaks 
of scientific doctrines in the tone of a man 
of the world, a general reader; yet, like 
Shakespeare, Chaucer seems to have read 
with intelligence and interest whatever 
came In his way, and to have retained with 
fair accuracy the results of his reading. 

The reign of Edward III has by many 
authorities been considered one of Eng- 

His Reading and Knowledge 

land's great periods, and in the pages of 
history the mighty expeditions of Edward 
to France, the battles of Crecy and Poi- 
tiers, the taking of Calais, the heroism of 
the Black Prince, the captivity of King 
John of France, take up much space and 
afford historians many a chance for sound- 
ing words ; and yet, now we can look back 
to those times after five centuries, we know 
that there was more of England's future 
depending upon the quiet, thoughtful, 
kindly citizen, Geoffrey Chaucer, than 
upon all Edward's exploits. 

While Edward and his son were warring 
against the neighbor kingdom to retain 
what was not worth keeping, and what 
was. In spite of their brave deeds, to be 
Irrevocably lost, Chaucer was bringing to 
England a treasure destined to be eternal. 
For the English poet brought from France 
and from Italy the seeds of a great litera- 
ture. He learned the essential principles 
of the art that was to give us Shakespeare, 

In the Days of Chaucer 

Spenser, Milton, Tennyson — the creators 
of the only wealth we all share, and shall 
share so long as it has any value to us and 
our descendants. 

And this is nothing but a plain state- 
ment of fact. Art is not a matter of in- 
dividual creation. Without his masters 
and his forerunners no poet, no artist can 
exist. Literature is a growth, a vast struct- 
ure in whose making all writers have a 
hand. If the ancient writers seem to stand 
alone, it is only because the history of their 
times is unknown. Before Homer and 
Dante and Chaucer there were countless 
busy men, without whom the great poets 
could not have been what they became. 
And as one generation of writers pass away 
they leave behind them that which will, 
soon or late, produce the work of their 

Chaucer was so placed and so consti- 
tuted that he became the chief means of 
bringing into England the charms of the 

His Reading and Knowledge 

poesy of France and of Italy; and none of 
Edward's conquests meant so much to Eng- 
lishmen and to Americans as Chaucer's vic- 
tories in the peaceful fields of literature. 

There has been much discussion over 
the questions whether the English poet 
ever had a personal meeting with Petrarch 
or with Boccaccio; but, after all, these 
questions are of minor importance. What 
does concern us is not at all doubtful. We 
know that Chaucer read and appreciated 
and learned to value the poems of the 
great Italian writers; that from them he 
taught himself to know good poetry, and 
to write good poetry in the English tongue 
— in that dialect of his own and of the 
English court which w^as to be the speech 
of millions throughout the globe. 

We have seen from the events of his 
life what manner of man he was. We 
have seen that he escaped the influences 
that might have narrowed him, and might 
have cramped his verse into a form and 


In the Days of Chaucer 

mold that would have confined it to his 
own times. He was not a poet of the 
church, caring only to teach ; not a poet of 
the chivalry that had already passed its 
prime ; not merely a reformer, to make his 
verse a political weapon; but he was a 
broad-minded, unprejudiced gentleman of 
England, with sympathy for all the men 
and women who in their various ways 
found their lives worth living. 

Chaucer loved books, as he confesses, 
but he did not shut his eyes to the world 
around him. He found virtue worthy of 
his praise, but he could not prevent a hu- 
man sympathy for the sinner. He exposed 
fraud and trickery, but it was with a smile 
rather than with bitter upbraiding. 

In learning the skill of the Italians, 
Chaucer did not forget the natural kind- 
liness of the French, and to both he added 
a quality that either was or has become 
especially English — the quality of common- 
sense, or simplicity. He has no false dig- 

His Reading and Knowledge 

nity,- no such conceit as renders him unap- 
proachable. He wins the affection of his 
readers; and this it is that has caused his 
work to be cherished and has In the cen- 
turies since his death assured him always 
those friends who keep his memory green 
and his verse alive. Happy is the poet 
whose readers love him, for this is what 
gives immortality, even to those of lesser 

This personal affection takes various 
forms. Toward Homer, Dante, Shake- 
speare, there is a reverence which prevents 
perfect affection; but Horace, Chaucer, 
Herrick, Scott, invite Intimacy by their 
kindliness, and we come nearer to them. 

Chaucer's broad, human spirit saved 
him also from becoming only an English 
reflection of those foreign masters whom 
he admired. He found good In Dante, in 
Boccaccio, in the Troubadours, in the 
Trouveres; but he was narrowed by none. 
Dante's solemnity, Boccaccio's lightness of 

In the Days of Chaucer 

touch, the Troubadours' artificiality, the 
Trouveres' ruggedness, he seems to have 
found not wholly to his taste, for while he 
used suggestions derived from each he 
adopted none of his models as sole and in- 
fallible guide. 

Even where he is writing in some set 
style Chaucer is apt now and then to show 
his impatience of it. He will pause in the 
middle of a long story to inform the reader 
that it is tiresome, and he wishes it were 

In short, Chaucer has humor. He finds 
it impossible to be stiff and to keep up a 
pose, as a man without humor so readily 
can do. His humor seems to us very mod- 
ern, perhaps because so little of ancient 
humor found its way into literature. There 
are few things more delicious than the in- 
terrupting of certain stories in the "Can- 
terbury Tales," because they are stupid; as 
where Chaucer himself is interrupted by 
*'Mine Host," because his "Tale of Sir 


His Reading and Knowledge 

Thopas" is unbearably slow, whereupon 
the tale remains Intentionally a fragment. 

Chaucer's attitude toward the men of 
his time, so far as It is revealed by his 
poems, Is that of an observer rather than 
a partisan or hero-worshipper. The por- 
traits he has drawn were m.ade with so 
much fairness that they never aroused re- 
sentment. The types he has described 
were strongly characterized, but were never 
unfairly caricatured; and therefore his 
works have never been considered unfair 
presentations. This has helped to make 
them popular, and thereby increased their 

And here again we may sum up our con- 
clusion by saying that Chaucer was a man 
of letters rather than satirist, reformer, or 




There is no such exactness in tlje dates 
of Chaucer's various works that we may 
give to each a definite place in his life. A 
few poems are in celebration of certain 
events, or contain passages that seem to 
Hx their time ; but in regard to most we can 
only put them generally into three great 
periods, as has been done by the German 
scholar, Ten Brink, who divides the poet's 
work into classes according to the influences 
under which the poems were composed. 

The first class is called that of French 
influence, and extends from his earliest 
work to the time of his sojourn in Italy in 
1373. The second, that of Italian influ- 
ence, extends to about 1389, or the poet's 
fiftieth year. The third, the period of full 


His Writings 

maturity, covers the eleven years remain- 

These divisions are, of course, merely 
helps to the student, and do not Indicate a 
complete change in style at the dates given. 
It Is true, however, that taken broadly the 
poet's work shows three great varieties, and 
these we may study separately. 

In the first period we find Chaucer try- 
ing his powers as a young writer by trans- 
lating and imitating the works of those 
who were most admired. Much of his 
work of this time Is thought to be lost, 
since writers of his owm day speak of a 
great number of poems written In the 
artificial style of the French, and we know 
of very few. There is, however, one long 
poem of the time preserved. 

This is the "Romance of the Rose," 
which Chaucer translated from the French, 
and of which we have a considerable part. 
If we may trust those who have most care- 
fully studied the question. The original 


In the Days of Chaucer 

was an allegory, introducing such charac- 
ters as Avarice, Sorrow, Idleness, who aid 
or oppose the hero, "Lover," in his at- 
tempt to reach the enchanted rose. The 
"Pilgrim's Progress" is to the religious life 
what these allegories were to the romantic, 
and to us retains an interest these have lost. 

The romance begins by telling of a 
poet's dream, wherein he sees a beauti- 
ful garden, enclosed about with a wall, 
whereon are emblematic pictures of per- 
sonified qualities, which paintings are de- 
scribed in full. To the garden the poet is 
admitted by "Ydelnesse," and meets with 
"Sir Mirthe," "Curtesye," and other char- 
acters, and the poem is made up mainly of 
long discourses that to modern readers are 
Insufferably dull and meaningless. 

It is hard for us to understand how any- 
one ever had patience to listen to the more 
than twenty thousand lines of the French 
original. Even in Chaucer's translation 
there is hardly enough wheat to reward 


His Writings 

one for seeking through the chaff. There 
Is no reason why anyone but a student of 
Chaucer should trouble to read more than 
selected extracts of the tedious "Romance 
of the Rose." Some of the descriptions of 
the paintings on the wall contain touches^ 
to repay the reader, and a few of these will 
convince one whether he cares to read more 
of the translation — the chances being that, 
without special purpose, the reader will 
not care to go far. 

The poem known as "Chaucer's A. 
B. C." has a musical beauty that will make 
It delightful to the reader. It Is a free 
translation or paraphrase of the work of 
a Cistercian monk, of whom Professor 
Lounsbury says: "Once in about every 
score of years he is regularly discovered as 
the source from which Bunyan derived his 
far more famous production"; for this 
monk wrote a "Pilgrimage of the Soul," 
not unlike, in idea, Bunyan's allegory. This 
pilgrimage was in three parts, and from 

In the Days of Chaucer 

one of them Is taken "Chaucer's A. B. C," 
or "Prayer to the Virgin Mary," each 
stanza beginning regularly with the letters 
of the alphabet. 

Besides this little device, the form of 
rhyming is noticeable. It Is French In 
form, and the same he used In the "Monk's 
Tale" and several other pieces. The poem 
is considered one of his finest short pieces 
— being musical, elevated in style, pure In 
sentiment. But It is hardly long enough 
for the reader to see the poet at his best. 

The "Book of the Duchess" Is written 
in memory of Blanche, wife of John of 
Gaunt (meaning Ghent). Her death was 
in 1369, and so the poem is supposed to 
be nearly of that date. It is often printed 
under the title "The Dream of Chaucer" 
or "The Death of Blanche"; but the first 
of these names must not be confused with 
"Chaucer's Dream," a poem by another 
hand, but sometimes ascribed to Chaucer 
in early editions of his works. Like the 

His Writings 

"Romance of the Rose," this also Is told 
in the form of a dream. The poet meets 
a dog, and Is led to a knight clad In black 
(one of the earliest Instances of black worn 
as mourning), who tells the sorrowful 
story of the loss of his beloved wife, and 
devotes himself to her praise. 

In the "Book of the Duchess" the reader 
will find proof of Chaucer's power. The 
beginning tells the tale of "Seys and 
Alcyone," which the poet was reading In 
order to put himself to sleep ; and the story 
concluding with a deep sleep, wherein Al- 
cyone sees a vision of her husband, the 
poet most humorously offers a bribe to 
Morpheus, the god of sleep, for as deep 
a slumber — the bribe being a "feather-bed 
of down from white doves" and the rich- 
est bed-clothing, besides a promise of gild- 
ing his bed-room and hanging It with 
tapestry ! The bribe seems effective, for the 
desired sleep follows, and therein occurs 
the dream which Is the subject of the poem. 

In the Days of Chaucer 

Modern readers will find most pleasure 
in Chaucer's picture of the May morning 
as the dreamer imagined it — a brightly 
painted little miniature, rich in color and 
in tone, with its bird-songs ; its stained-glass 
windows, showing Hector, Priam, Paris, 
Helen, and Lavinia; the sunbeams glan- 
cing through; the clear, cloudless, blue 
sky, and the morning air "neither cold nor 
hot." Then comes a hunting-scene, blow- 
ing horns, eager hounds, and galloping 
horsemen, from which the "whelp that 
fawned me as I stood" leads the poet to 
the bereaved knight. 

The knight's tribute to the lost one is 
natural and beautiful, and though there 
are here and there bits of pedantry and 
tricks of the French school, there is 
throughout a wholesome tenderness of 
tone, a graphic painting of an English 
woman of the best sort, and an ease of 
style that will ever attract readers. 

Some critics have objected that the poem 

His Writings 

is awkwardly ended; but it seems to me 
that the abrupt ending after the words 
"She is dead!" rs masterly. An inferior 
poet would have dragged on to a weak 
and nerveless ending, forgetting Hamlet's 
thought — "The rest is silence." Truly, 
after the knight's words there can be noth- 
ing said; and that Chaucer wisely closes 
with the few necessary lines that end his 
dream is enough to prove that he already 
had in him the essential qualities of a great 

The story of "Seys and Alcyone" is re- 
ferred to in the introduction to the pro- 
logue to the "Man of Law's Tale" ("Can- 
terbury Tales") as written in the poet's 
youth; so the version of it included in "The 
Book of the Duchess" may be a rewriting 
of an earlier complete form, since Chaucer 
was certainly nearly thirty at the time of 
the death of Blanche. 

To this same period, that of French In- 
fluence, are assigned two other poems that 

In the Days of Chaucer 

seem to have been included later among the 
"Canterbury Tales"— the "Life of St. Ce- 
cilia" and parts of the "Monk's Tale," so 
they need not be here mentioned further. 

After the sojourn in Italy critics find 
some changes in style. To this period be- 
long "The Complaint of Mars," "Troilus 
and Criseyde," the translation of "Boethi- 
us" in prose, "The Parliament of Fowls," 
and "The House of Fame," and certain 
minor pieces. Besides the change in style, 
there is direct taking of plots and incidents, 
chiefly from Boccaccio or from Petrarch's 
Latin versions of Boccaccio's stories. Like 
Shakespeare, Chaucer had no scruple in 
taking material that suited his purposes, 
and in making use of it as he chose. But 
in using the aid of the Italians, the im- 
portant matter is that Chaucer felt the 
grace and ease of their verse, and in mak- 
ing his English poems upon the same 
themes sought and won some of the Italian 
music, though he rightly complains that 

His Writings 

English does not lend itself so easily to 
rhyme and metre as does Italian. The sub- 
jects themselves are not especially pleasing 
to us. As Chaucer grew in power he aban- 
doned the conventional stories of heathen 
gods and goddesses; but at this time my- 
thology, classic lore, and allegory^ make 
much of his work very stupid reading to 
us who care so much less for all these 

*'The Complaint of Mars," for example, 
is tiresome, short as it is; "The Parliament 
of Fowls" is full of delightful passages, so 
different from "The Complaint of Mars" 
that it is hard to believe the same hand 
wrote both. The Fowls are choosing their 
mates on St. Valentine's Day, in the pres- 
ence of the goddess Nature, when a rivalry 
arises among three eagles who have chosen 
the same mate. After various birds — the 
goose, the cuckoo, the dove — have given 
their opinions in characteristic ways. Na- 
ture decides that the decision shall rest with 


In the Days of Chaucer 

the eagle they all have chosen, and she 
postpones her decision for a year. 

This plot is slight enough, but it is sup- 
posed to be an allegory of the courtship of 
Anne of Bohemia by Richard II and two 
rivals, and therefore to have been com- 
posed about 138 1 — the year of Tyler's 

From the absurdity of the speeches made 
by some of the birds called upon for opin- 
ions, we may suspect that one purpose of 
the poem was to poke fun at some of those 
who favored the marriage of Anne to the 
foreign noblemen; but the ending of the 
story in a year's delay would suggest that a 
sequel was intended. To modern readers 
the plot matters little; the charm of the 
piece lies in the treatment, for which the 
poem is well worth reading. 

The long and dull translation of "Boe- 

thius on the Consolation of Philosophy" is 

not likely to attract modern readers, though 

his work was deservedly popular before 


His Writings 

and after Chaucer's times. Gibbon speaks 
of Boethlus as "the last of the Romans 
whom Cato or Cicero could have acknowl- 
edged as their countryman." Born about 
475 A.D., a Roman of high birth, he was 
at first prosperous and prominent, being a 
consul and seeing both his sons in the same 
office ; but later he was Imprisoned, lost his 
property, and was put to death. His "Con- 
solations" were written In prison. 

To the Middle Ages Boethius was both 
martyr and philosopher, and was long 
revered as teacher and authority In many 
branches of learning. But excellent as his 
work was and Is, it Is not likely to be read 
by modern readers — to whom the long 
treatises that delighted our ancestors are a 
mental weariness. 

The translation, made by Chaucer from 
about his thirty-eighth to his forty-first 
year, marks the beginning of more serious 
writings by the English poet, such as 
"Trollus and Criseyde," "The House of 

In the Days of Chaucer 

Fame/' "The Legend of Good Women," 
and the "Canterbury Tales" — to name the 
longer pieces. 

"Troilus and Crlseyde" is based not 
upon Homer's story of the Trojan war, 
but is, as Ward says in the volume of 
"English Men of Letters" that he wrote 
on Chaucer, "an English reproduction of a 
Latin translation of a French poem," 
though it is not an exact following of any 
of these. Boccaccio's poem "Filostrato" 
was the chief source, and suggested about 
one-third of Chaucer's poem, directly or 

To show the difference of critical opin- 
ion. Professor Lounsbury quotes Sir Wal- 
ter Scott as calling this "a long and some- 
what dull poem," while Rossetti declares 
It "perhaps the most beautiful narrative 
poem of considerable length in the English 

Where such doctors differ, the readers 
must choose which to follow. 

His Writings 

Chaucer himself certainly found the 
tragic story gloomy, for he inserts near the 
end a prayer that before he dies the writer 
may ''make some comedy." And with this 
aspiration in mind, we find him adopting a 
ligliter treatment of his next subject. 

"The House of Fame" commences, as 
do its predecessors, with a dream. So does 
"The Legend of Good Women." This 
device seems to have been the regular form 
in which to cast poems wherein the unreal 
is treated. It is abandoned when Chaucer, 
freeing himself from all bonds, awakes to 
realities in the "Canterbury Tales." 

The dream in "The House of Fame" 
takes the poet to a temple of Venus, where 
first he reads the story of iEneas and 
Dido, and then recounts other tales of false 
lovers. Leaving this temple, he is carried 
by Jove's eagle to the House of Fame — 
the flight through the air being wonder- 
fully described — and there entering be- 
holds the great men of all time, in their 

In the Days of Chaucer 

classes. Here were musicians, magicians 
— the minstrel and the juggler were nearly 
allied In Chaucer's mind — heralds, and the 
historians, poets, and writers. Among 
them are Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Luclan, 

Dame Fame is now described as award- 
ing reputations good and bad, according to 
the motive with which work has been done, 
and according to the requests made her. 
This whole scene Is most humorously writ- 
ten, and richly repays the reader. 

From the Temple of Fame the poet goes 
to view the "Labyrinth of Daedalus," a 
representation of Rumor, or false fame — 
In short, the Temple of Gossip, described 
as formless, whirling, never-resting. And 
then — the fragment ends. The poem re- 
mains unfinished. But no reader of Chau- 
cer should neglect it. 

''The Legend of Good Women" is In- 
troduced by a prologue telling of Chaucer's 
meeting Vv^th the god of love, who charges 

His Writings 

the poet with disloyalty in having told the 
stories of women who were faithless to 
their lovers instead of true. Chaucer ob- 
tains forgiveness through the Intercession 
of Alceste, revered as the type of faithful 
wives, and as a penance is told to write of 
good women. 

This introduction serves to bind to- 
gether a number of stories relating the 
fates of Cleopatra, Thisbe (our old friend 
of "Midsummer-Night's Dream"), Queen 
Dido, Lucrece, Ariadne, and others. The 
poem was never finished. 

The prologue, besides showing that the 
whole was to be presented to Queen Anne, 
is valuable as containing a list of Chaucer's 
more important works up to this time. 

Of nineteen stories of "Good Women" 
promised, only nine were written, so far as 
we know; but In the prologue is the best 
of this production. The cause of Its sud- 
den ending Is unknown; but since it was 
about this time that we find the poet pledg- 

In the Days of Chaucer 

Ing his pensions, it has been supposed that 
he was oppressed by poverty. Other causes 
have been suggested, such as the death of 
his wife, which occurred about this time, 
or the beginning of the "Canterbury 
Tales." In the prologue to "The Legend 
of Good Women" there is mention of two 
poems that afterward made part of the 
stories told by Canterbury pilgrims — the 
knight's tale of "Palamon and Arcite" 
and a "Life of St. Cecilia," that was 
transferred to the later collection as "The 
Second Nun's Tale" ; and these, like "Seys 
and Alcyone," may have appeared first as 
separate, complete poems. It seems rea- 
sonable that a plan so large as that for 
the "Canterbury Tales" may well have 
caused the poet to give up the writing of 
minor poems in which he found less inter- 
est ; and since this greatest work was never 
finished, the earlier works also remained 
incomplete. Then, too, it is not impossible 
that there may have been more of his work 

His Writings 

than has come down to us. The first col- 
lected edition of his poems did not appear 
until 1532, and there was a century at least 
during which much of his work may have 
been lost. 

The poems mentioned in this chapter are 
of admitted authenticity, and the omission 
of "The Court of Love," "The Flower 
and the Leaf," "The Cuckoo and the 
Nightingale," and "Chaucer's Dream" is 
due to their exclusion from his works by 
critics of the highest rank. There can be 
no objection to reading them, so long as it 
is remembered that they probably are not 

Of important poems there remain only 
the "Canterbury Tales." 

As these are by far the most interesting 
to us they deserve more space, especially 
since they enable us to see the times of 
Chaucer more intimately than any other 
agency can do. As has been pointed out, 
the poems already spoken of do not at- 


In the Days of Chaucer 

tempt to picture the times directly, and they 
are more or less affected by the inclusion of 
unrealities, or by the models upon which 
they were formed. 

But in the "Canterbury Tales" the plan 
permitted more freedom and more range, 
and it will therefore give us the best idea 
of Chaucer's times to note the features of 
the pictures the poet has therein drawn 
for us. 

"Chaucer," wrote Lowell, "is the first 
who broke away from the dreary tra- 
ditional style, and gave not merely stories 
but lively pictures of real life as the ever- 
renewed substance of poetry." 

It is in the "Canterbury Tales" that we 
shall find a gallery of these pictures — the 
life of his times and the life of all times. 


id > 

DC c 

< s 

r \ 3 

^ E 


"the canterbury tales" 

One passes, in coming from his earlier 
poems to the famous pilgrimage, out of an 
old museum Into the freshness and light of 
a crisp spring morning.) The first lines of 
the Prologue affect one as does the dawn , 
of day in early spring J Chaucer must have ^ 
written them on some April or May morn- 
ing such as he is so fond of describing. 

No doubt it was the minstrels' fashion 
to sing of the springtide, but even in fol- 
lowing the mode set by other poets Chau- 
cer gives one a sense of reahty and truth 
that they lack. Edmund C. Stedman says: 
^'Chaucer for the most part tells old tales 
with a new and English beauty," and is 
*'like a child that roams afield in May." 

But while the stories told by the pilgrims 


In the Days of Chaucer 

to Canterbury are retellings of old tales, 
the framework of the whole poem is new. 
Since poetry was first put together various 
devices have been Invented to bind its flow- 
ers into a single posy, and that chosen by 
Chaucer Is one of the most pleasing. ' 

Boccaccio sends his story-tellers Into a 
retired garden far from a plague-stricken 
city, and though he surrounds them with 
wholesome natural objects, the reader who 
can forget the miseries of the deserted city 
is fortunate. In the "Arabian Nights" the 
charming stories of Scheherazade are de- 
vices to save a loved sister from the execu- 
tioner. But Chaucer brings his personages 
together on a spring day, shows them bent 
upon a pious mission, and yet one Involving 
pleasant picnicking, conducts them gaily 
through a beautiful country, and lets no 
suggestion of tragedy mar our enjoyment 
of their friendly companionship. 

Longfellow's "Tales of a Wayside Inn" 
spring from a similar meeting, but the 

The Canterbury Tales 

foundation for his set of poems is much 
slighter, as befits the stories themselves. 
Besides, Longfellow was the later writer, 
and writes in confessed imitation of Chau- 

Short as is the Prologue, there is 
left untold in it. The shrine of Thoi 
a Becket was a popular object for the 
grim journeys, for the road to it was s: 
easily travelled, as roads went in tl 
days, and the shrine was in the great cc 
dral city, itself well worth a visit. 

That it was attractive to all classes we 
can understand; and though. about a third 
of the pilgrims were connected with the 
Church, the rest fairly represent the secular 
world. Three, the kn'ght, the squire, and 
their comrade the y^^man, were types of 
the military life that nourished chivalry 
and its supporters. Mercantile and pro- 
fessional life, trade and labor each had 
representatives; and all were, as is plainly 
said, fairly prosperous, and making the 

In the Days of Chaucer 

pilgrimage as much from pleasure as from 
a sense of duty. Chaucer speaks of "twen- 
ty-nine pilgrims," but there are more than 
this number, as the readers may see by 
counting those named in the Prologue, and 
en adding the Canon and his Yeoman, 
o join late in the journey, as told in the 
anon Yeoman's Prologue." 
anterbury was a busy commercial 
1, its cathedral renowned throughout 
;land, its people famed for public spirit 
and independence. What could appeal', 
more strongly to London's citizens than the \! 


ride thither, knowing it would confer upon 
them a certain odor of sanctity, and that 
they would meet upon the road many trav- 
ellers going upon the same errand or rec- 
tum ing ? 

No doubt parties were made up just as 
this one came together. The Tabard Inn I 
at Southwark was a most convenient gath- 
ering-place. Built around an open court, 
the Intending pilgrim had but to take his 

The Canterbury Tales 

Dlace upon one of its galleries and watch | 
:he coming of other travellers into the | 
oaved court below. Then, as Chaucer did,/ 
le could make acquaintance, and add himA 
ielf to what seemed an attractive party. / 

Some critics have thought it unlikely 
that there should have been so little re- 
straint among pilgrims whose social ranks 
were so different: that the knight and the 
ploughman should so freely consort to- 
gether. But in those days the classes were 
so sharply divided by fixed barriers that 
there was little danger of mistake. Dress, 
manners, language — all marked the gentle 
from the churl, even while their methods 
of life were much the same; the barrier 
was impassable, though at times the supe- 
rior condescended to familiarity or the 
inferior tried to presume upon kindness. 
Yet, though there remained ajDarrier, there 
was, as Matthew Browne points out, much 
more contact between the classes than In 
later times. The chase, war, castle-life, 

In the Days of Chaucer 

amusements — all brought together th? 
gentles and those of low degree. Nowa- 
days a nobleman wishing to be exclusive 
could live almost without a word to a 
fellow-being. Then, it would have been 

Chaucer tells us that in the evening 
before the start he had spoken to every- 
one ; and this shows there could have been 
no difficulty in making acquaintance^ As 
pilgrims, too, they were all equal, and this 
may have caused a fellow-feeling that 
tended to bring them together^^^~Certarinly 
there could have been no formalities of 
introduction, for later in the poem we find 
that the innkeeper shows little knowledge 
of his companions' names or state except 
where their costumes help him in fixing 
their quality. 

This Innkeeper was a real personage. 

Browne, in his "Chaucer's England," 

quotes from "Notes and Queries" a letter 

that shows that "Harvey Bailly, hostelry- 


The Canterbury Tales 

keeper of Southwark, was in Parliament'* 
at that time. And the Tabard Inn was in 
existence until about 1875, though it is 
doubtful what portion of the later building 
dated from Edward's reign. The site of it 
is known, and what Southwark was it is 
easy to understand. 

Lying just outside of London, it was a 
true suburb, less strictly ruled and gov- 
erned than the city, and therefore the 
resort of those whose presence in the city 
was for any reason unwelcome. Being on 
the roads connecting London with Canter- 
bury and with Kent, it was a natural place 
for travellers to lodge, and so was well 
provided with inns, for the accommodation 
not only of pilgrims but of carters, mer- 
chants, minstrels, and wanderers of all 
sorts between the two cities. The Tabard 
Inn, one of the most popular and pros- 
perous, no doubt made its owner a man of 
substance, well able to represent his shire 
in Parliament. 



In the Days of Chaucer 

Chaucer describes him as a big, master- 
ful man, with bright eyes, sociable and 
kindly — after his guests had settled their 
bills, which it seems was customary after 
supper. He is the one to propose that 
stories shall be told, the best to win a sup- 
per; his plan being that each pilgrim shall 
tell four tales during the pilgrimage, two 
going, two returning. 

Next morning, the after-supper agree- 
ment being confirmed, lots are drawn, andj 
the Knight is appointed to tell the firs^y 
story, as is proper in view of his position 
in the company. '-^ .: 

The story he chooses is such as would be 
expected from a man of his traditions, a 
story of knighthood and women in dis- 
tress. Duke Theseus, the old Greek hero, 
becomes changed into a representative of 
mediaeval chivalry, and captures two 
young knights, Arcite and Palamon, whose 
rivalry for the love of Emelye makes the 
romantic basis for the tale — of which a 

The Canterbury Tales 

large portion comes from Boccaccio's poem, 

The reader of to-day will find much 
light upon the ways of Chaucer's days in 
the description of the tournament in the 
third part of the poem, the luxurious lists 
built up for the fray, upon the walls of 
which the poet has portrayed with a mas- 
ter's power pictures as vivid as they are 

** There saw I first the dark imagining 
Of felony, and all the compassing. 
The cruel ire, red as any gleede ; * 
The pickpurse, and eke the pale drede ; f 
The smiler with the knife under the cloak ; 
The shepne J burning with the black smoke ; 
The treason of the murdering in the bed 
The open war with woundes || all bi-bled.''1T 

Every form of tragic death is here sug- 
gested in a word or two, and with a 
strength few poets ever attain. And so 
with other subjects, in a long gallery of 

* Live coal, f Dread. % Shed. || Wounds. ^ Bloody. 


In the Days of Chaucer 

To these lists come the knights, as 
graphically depicted, and after a long dis- 
course upon the prayers of Palamon and 
Arcite and Emelye to the heathen gods, we 
are present in the bustle and hubbub of the 
tournament — a masterly piece of descrip- 
tive writing — and see the battle lost and 

But Chaucer must tell the story, and, 
indeed, all the stories. There is no profit 
in condensing them into a few dry sen- 
tences. We shall note only what informa- 
tion they give to help us In entering into 
the life of the times, and knowing the 
people of England five centuries ago. 
Besides, every reader of Chaucer's works 
knows that there are some of the tales told 
by the pilgrims which are better omitted. 
There can be no objection to plain speak- 
ing where it is required, but in works of 
imagination the world of events is wide 
enough and affords paths enough to avoid 
the rubbish heaps. 


The Canterbury Tales 

After the telling of the Knight's ro- 
mance the Miller, who Is drunk, tells a 
story despite all efforts to restrain him ; but 
there Is no need that we should soberly 
rehearse the story of this drunken Miller. 
It will be enough to say that It presents 
pictures of town-life — the young scholar 
devoted to astrology, weather-wise, fond of 
playing on the harp; the carpenter who 
rents his rooms, and has a pretty, young 
wife, whose dress Is carefully described. 
Chaucer herein gives an excellent idea of 
a young housewife's garb, and of her 
lively demeanor. We also have a portrait 
of a dandified young clerk, with curly yel- 
low hair, dressed In red and white, and are 
told how he could "let blood, and clip and 
shave," being a sort of barber-surgeon, or 
write legal papers, as well as dance, sing, 
and play Instruments. He even appears at 
times as an actor in the miracle-plays, or 
spectacles upon a high scaffolding in the 


In the Days of Chaucer 

These are the characters In the story of 
town life; and then the Reeve, being a 
carpenter and offended by the Miller's 
story about a fool carpenter, tells his own, 
and gives us sketches of country life, since 
his scene is a mill where two clerks come to 
have their corn ground. This story, too, 
is like an old Dutch painting of a village 
turmoil, and equally unsavory. But in it 
we have a portrait of a big, bullying miller, 
who carries a knife in his stocking and is 
ready for a fight or for robbing a cus- 
tomer; a companion-picture of his proud 
wife, brought up in a nunnery, daughter of 
the parson of the town ; and their two chil- 
dren. All are strong, hearty, coarse folk, 
and nowise nice. And there is nothing in 
the story of their adventures tempting us 
to seek for light upon the life of the time. 
The Cook follows, but before he is fairly 
started we come to a note saying, *'0f this 
Cook's tale maked Chaucer no more," and 
we get nothing beyond a hasty sketch of an 

The Canterbury Tales 

idle apprentice who is discharged with the 
proverb, "Better is a rotten apple out of 
hoard than that it rot all the remenant" 

With the Cook's Tale are concluded the 
tales told on the first day of the pil- 

This brings us to the Introduction to 
the Man of Law's Prologue, in which we 
find the Host fixing the very day and hour 
— the eighteenth of April, 1388, at ten 
o'clock — the very day of "Paul Revere's 
Ride," told in the "Tales of a Wayside 
Inn." Of course the actual date named by 
Chaucer, three hundred and eighty-seven 
years before, would correspond, in "new 
style," to the twenty-ninth of April, since 
eleven days were dropped when the calen- 
dar was corrected in September, 1752. 

The lengths of the tree-shadows serve 
the Host for a timepiece, and the going of 
the day gives him occasion for moral re- 
marks on the loss of time before he calls 


In the Days of Chaucer 

upon the Man of Law to entertain the 
company. The lawyer, after modestly 
saying that he cannot tell such tales as 
Chaucer told, and naming a few examples 
of that poet's work, himself recites one 
founded upon an old chronicle — the ad- 
ventures of Constance, daughter of the 
Emperor of Rome, who escapes by her 
pious faith from many a grievous peril, and 
returns home to live "in virtue and in holy 

Here again, although the story is inter- 
esting and excellently told, reminding one 
of the "Arabian Nights" by the complica- 
tion of its plot, there is little in it that could 
not be as well in any other time than Chau- 
cer's. It belongs to the land of poesy where 
dates do not exist, and where all ages are 
equally at home. 

To the proposal that the Parson shall 

tell his story next, the clergyman replies by 

rebuking the Host for an oath, and then 

the Sailor interposes with, "I smell a Lol- 


The Canterbury Tales 

lard [Wycliffite] in the wind," and insists 
that there shall be no sermon preached. 
The Shipman's tale follows, and is of 
value as showing us a picture of the busy 
merchant of the time, immersed in com- 
merce, with books and money about him in 
his counting-house, while his wife gets into 
trouble by extravagance in dress, and by 
borrowing to pay for her clothing. 

We see in many of these stories that 
the clergy were held in evil esteem, and 
accused of abusing in every way their free- 
dom of access to the homes of the citizens. 
It is of course natural that stories told to 
please a popular taste that was, to say the 
least, not particular, should dwell upon the 
vices and shortcomings of both churchmen 
and laymen. But so often is the monk, 
the friar, the pardoner, or the summoner 
made the doer of evil that one must admit 
there was reason for the reforms set afoot 
by Wycliffe and his followers. Certainly, 
if we are to take Chaucer's portrayals as 

In the Days of Chaucer 

just, we shall do little injustice by the con- 
clusion that the wandering, thievish, scoun- 
drelly churchmen of that day w^ere like a 
swarm of vermin. 

Even where there was probity, there 
was still superstition and fanaticism, as is 
seen in the Tale of the Prioress, who re- 
counts the miracle of the coming to life of 
a Christian child, murdered by a Jew. It 
is a story like that of Hugh of Lincoln, 
who was then believed to have been slain 
by the Jews in a similar way. Such accu- 
sations were not infrequently made against 
this persecuted race, and goaded mobs to 
fury against them in times of popular 

Next Chaucer is called upon, as de- 
scribed in the passage already quoted, re- 
lating to his personal appearance. He 
responds by the. rhyming ballad of "Sir 
Thopas," in parody of those "gestes" pop- 
ular in England at the time. The cheap 
jingle of the lines becomes, as it was meant 

The Canterbury Tales 

to do, unbearably monotonous, and is at 
last stopped by the Host, who commands 
the poet to "tell In prose somewhat at the 
least In which there be some mirth or some 
doctrine." Chaucer yields, and tells the 
"Tale of Mellbeus" — which, to a modern 
reader, Is even duller In Its long-winded 
prose than Is Sir Thopas In Its trotting 

But In Sir Thopas there are some par- 
ticulars that Interest us. We have a de- 
scription of the knight and of his pursuits : 

'* He coulde hunt at wilde deer 
And ride a-hawking for riveer 

With grey goshawk on hand. 
Thereto he was a good archeer ; 
Of wrestling was there none his peer 
Where any ram shall stand." 

A ram was the usual prize in wrestling 

bouts, and in the description of the Miller 

we are told that he too was a winner of 

rams by wrestling. Next comes a little 


In the Days of Chaucer 

landscape and woodland scene, a meeting 
with a fierce giant, named "Oliphaunt," or 
Elephant, who throws stones from a "staff- 
sling," and finally the arraying of the 
knight for combat, with minute detail of 
what he wore — wearisome to the hearers, 
perhaps, but instructive to us. 

The "Melibeus" is a free translation of 
a French version of a Latin treatise — a 
long, dull, moralizing prose-story that is 
of use only as proving that Chaucer's prose 
was clear and easy in style, and as showing 
that the fourteenth century had its full 
share of proverbial wisdom gathered from 
every source. But so dry is the treatise 
that Chaucer is commended for modesty in 
assigning this "Hobson's choice" to him- 
self. We cannot see why such dull dis- 
courses as this "Melibeus" and the "Par- 
son's Tale" were listened to by the Host 
and the Knight when they would not sub- 
mit to "Sir Thopas" and the "Monk's 
Tale." We can only guess that it was 

The Canterbury Tales 

thought improving to hear these sermon- 
izings, and no one dared revolt against 

The Host's comment upon Mellbeus Is 
a humorous wish that his wife might have 
learned patience from It, whereas she Is a 
shrew, eager to have him beat his knaves 
with "great clubbed staves," and urges him 
to slay those who fall to do her courtesy In 
church — saying he has no spirit and should 
"have her distaff and go spin." Inci- 
dentally, the Host remarks that they are 
approaching Rochester, which Informs us 
that their journey Is about half done. 



THE "canterbury TALES" THE PIL- 

Without counting the very brief frag- 
ment "Sir Thopas," there are twenty-three 
Tales fairly completed. But this is a small 
part of those promised in the prologue, 
where each was to tell four, two on the 
journey out, two on the way home. The 
whole poem is incomplete, of course, but 
there is sufficient variety in the tales to in- 
dicate what the completed work would 
have been. 

The Monk, continuing in the moral 
path chosen by Chaucer's "Melibeus," 
gives a long series of what were known as 
"Tragedies" — brief sketches in verse recit- 
ing the misfortunes of illustrious charac- 
ters, serving in place of biographical no- 

The Pilgrims 

tices. The poems are not of especial 
interest in any respect if we look at them 
only as readers, and Chaucer tells us that 
the Knight soon tires of the homilies, re- 
minds the Monk that they all know the 
lesson he is teaching, and with the cordial 
seconding of the Host the Monk's Tale is 
stopped before they all fall asleep ; and the 
Nuns' Priest, John, is invited to tell some- 
thing that will "gladden their hearts." 

The story of the Nuns' Priest is the 
charming little barnyard mock-heroic poem 
of Chanticleer and the Fox. Beginning 
with a sketch of the home of the poor 
widow who ow^ns the fowls, we learn how 
the cock dreams of falling victim to a 
villainous fox, and then discusses with pru- 
dent Dame Pertelote, the hen, the value of 
dreams as omens, each wisely quoting 
learned authorities. The cock, being re- 
assured, falls victim to the crafty fox, who 
flatters the bird into giving an exhibition 
of his crowing. The passage where Chan- 

In the Days of Chaucer 

ticker performs is exquisitely written, and 
so are many other pictures in this wonder- 
ful tale — a most successful example of 
Chaucer's lighter style. The escape of 
Chanticleer from his enemy delights the 
reader, and altogether the Nuns' Priest is 
worthy of the praise he receives from his 
companions for his share in the story- 

This is supposed to end the stories told 
on the second day's journey. 

Without the usual introduction comes 
the Physician's Tale — the story of Vir- 
ginia, from Livy's history — the same 
made so familiar by Macaulay's "Lays of 
Ancient Rome." In this the portrait of 
Virginia is especially notable, but the tell- 
ing of the tragic deed should be enough 
to convince any doubter of Chaucer's 
power to write in the highest style. The 
Host's comments show him deeply moved, 
but he reacts into his usual joking manner, 
and calls for something to take away the 

The Pilgrims 

sad remembrance of the tragedy. The 
Pardoner Is urged to tell a "merry tale," 
and then, because of objections from the 
"gentles," he agrees to tell a moral tale, 
prefacing It by getting a drink and a cake 
at an ale-house, and then by giving an ac- 
count of his method of preaching — show- 
ing himself an arrant knave and confessed 
hypocrite. The story is upon a well- 
known plot, that of the rogues who fall 
out over a treasure they have found, and 
by treachery one to another are all slain. 
As a preface to the narrative, the Par- 
doner delivers a sermon on various vices, 
and as an epilogue vaunts the value of the 
pardons and relics he has to sell — like a 
very soul-Insurance agent. 

Rebuked by the foul-mouthed Host, a 
quarrel arises, which Is ended by the In- 
tercession of the Knight, by whose Inter- 
cession the Host and the Pardoner are 
brought to exchange the kiss of peace ! 

The deaf Wife of Bath follows, with 

In the Days of Chaucer 

her garrulous discourse on her experiences 
of five husbands, and with her story of 
the knight who carried out his promise 
to wed an old hag and then found her 
transformed into a beautiful young bride 
— an idea that has come down to our times 
in "Beauty and the Beast" and other fairy- 

The Wife of Bath was a great favor- 
ite with Chaucer, perhaps the character he 
believed the best he had drawn; and he re- 
fers to her in his "Envoy to Bukton," ad- 
vising his friend to read of her. 

Two stories follow told in malice — the 
Friar striving to cast ridicule upon the 
Summoner, and the Summoner responding 
in kiild. Both seem so expert at mud- 
throwing that lovers of cleanliness will do 
well to keep their distance, since there is 
little to be learned from either story be- 
yond a knowledge how the poor were 
robbed by the "summoners," or sheriffs of 
the ecclesiastics, and how the friars were 

The Pilgrims 

often thieves and rascals as well as beg- 
gars. Despite the unsavory nature of the 
tales, we can see how they might please 
those who had learned to hate these wolves 
in sheep's clothing. 

"Patient Griselda" is the story told by 
the Clerk, who gives due credit to Petrarch 
for the plot. It Is this passage which 
makes critics believe that Chaucer records 
a personal meeting with the Italian poet, 
though It seems a very slight foundation. 
However, one might fairly ask whether 
the meeting would make any difference, 
one way or the other. An envoy. In which 
Chaucer moralizes on the rarity of Grl- 
seldas, forms an appendix; and then the 
Merchant, the Squire, and the Second Nun 
— who tells the legend of St. Cecilia — the 
Canon's Yeoman — who speaks of alche- 
mists and their art — the Manciple, and 
Parson offer their share of entertainment. 

The tales of the fourth and last, day of 
the pilgrimage begin with the Squire's. 


In the Days of Chaucer 

It will be enough to characterize these 
stories briefly. The Merchant points the 
well-known moral against the marriage of 
age and youth — "January" and "May"; 
the Squire's subject is a medieval story of 
magic, an Arabian Nights' wonder-tale; 
the legend of St. Cecilia is one of the regu- 
lar lives of the saints; the Canon Yeoman's 
expose of the tricks of a swindling alche- 
mist is excellent in all respects; the Man- 
ciple gives a fable explaining how the crow 
came to be black, and then the Parson 
claims the right to preach. 

The Parson's long sermon — the last of 
the collection that has come to us — is 
simply a sermon, and one is glad to know 
that Lowell prefers to believe it is not 
Chaucer's, especially as it concludes with a 
"recantation" by the poet of some of his 
very best work. Only conjectures can be 
made; but may it not be that this expres- 
sion of repentance is a pious forgery, and 
that more than one of the missing Can- 

The Pilgrims 

terbury Tales have been made away with? 
The missing "Cook's Tale" was once re- 
placed by the story of "Gamelin," from 
another pen than Chaucer's we are told. 

There is no possibility of denying that 
there are many passages in Chaucer's 
works that not only the enemies but the 
friends of the poet would wish never writ- 
ten. But the same is true in some degree 
of the classical writers in all lands, and 
those who are to study these writings must 
decide for themselves whether to avoid 
these portions. There is much of Chaucer 
that may be read with delight and without 
aversion, and the rest is like certain facts 
in nature — to be frankly avoided by those 
whom they offend, courageously met when 
a proper motive requires it. 

There is more good and clean literature 
than can be read in a lifetime, and our 
tastes and principles must guide us in our 
reading. If we prefer Chaucer in selec- 
tions, there are edited texts to be obtained 


In the Days of Chaucer 

without difficulty; and what is omitted 
from them is of secondary importance to 
the reader who wishes to know the poet 
only at his best. 

Why is it, in view of the blemishes, the 
faults, the copying, that these "Canterbury 
Tales" have always been praised, cher- 
ished, studied, held to be one of the great 
treasures of English literature? It is of 
no use to deny that the "Canterbury Tales" 
are Chaucer's masterpiece and his monu- 
ment. What makes them great? 

One need but read them to be able to 
answer that question. They have a truth, 
a vitality, a reality that appeal to all of 
us. We come face to face with men and 
women of five hundred years ago, and 
know them as if we had mounted into the 
saddle and gone on the pilgrimage our- 
selves. We see them, hear the horses' 
hoofs, move on the road, halt, and listen 
as they do. We are even conscious that 
the pilgrims are more real than the per- 


The Pilgrims 

sonages in their stories, though these do 
not lack distinctness. Longfellow's "Tales 
of a Wayside Inn" are charming, but com- 
pare his sketches of his tale-tellers with the 
pictures drawn by his mediaeval forerunner. 

Chaucer was a customs-official, Long- 
fellow a professor in a great college, and 
yet — 

Let us hear Longfellow first; and then 
Chaucer on the same subject: 

*' A theologian from the school 

Of Cambridge on the Charles, was there; 
Skilful alike with tongue and pen. 
He preached to all men everywhere 
The gospel of the Golden Rule, 
The New Commandment given to men. 
Thinking the deed and not the creed. 
Would help us in our utmost need. 
With reverent feet the earth he trod 
Nor banished nature from his plan. 
But studied still with deep research 
To build the Universal Church, 
Lofty as is the love of God, 
And ample as the wants of man.*' 

In the Days of Chaucer 

Elevating, scholarly, polished. Very ex- 
cellent verse, though far from Longfellow 
at his best. Now let us hear Chaucer's 
lines : 

"A good man was there of religioun. 
And was a poor parson of a town; 
But rich he was of holy thought and work; 
He was also a learned man, a clerk 
That Christes gospel truly woulde preach. 
His parisshens devoutly would he teach. 
Benign he was, and wonder diHgent, 
And in adversity full patient. 
And such he was y-proved often sythes. 
Full loath were he to cursen for his tithes. 
But rather would he given, out of doubt. 
Unto his poore parisshens about 
Of his off 'ring, and eke of his substance. 
He could in little thing have sufEsance." 

To be fair, let us stop here, since this 
portion Is about equal In length to the ex- 
tract from Longfellow. Now, which of 
these poets was thinking of theology, and 
which of the man he described? See 
which tells the most about his subject. 

The Pilgrims 

Longfellow has only one line that even 
gives a hint about the "Theologian" him- 
self — "With reverent feet the earth he 
trod'' — and that line Is a figure of speech; 
while Chaucer, In little more space, only 
six more words, tells us the man's char- 
acter, disposition, practice, and theory. 
There is no doubt possible which is the bet- 
ter poetic, the better imaginative work. 

Let us compare the two landlords — him 
of the Wayside Inn with Harry Bailly, of 
the Tabard. Here is all the descriptive 
part of Longfellow's lines : 

*<But first the landlord will I trace; 
Grave in his aspect and attire; 
A man of ancient pedigree, 
A Justice of the Peace was he. 
Known in all Sudbury as < The Squire.' " 

And here Is Chaucer's equally brief 
sketch of a similar type : 

**A seemly man our hoste was withal 
For to have been a marshall in a hall. 

In the Days of Chaucer 

A large man he was, with eyen steep,* 

A fairer burgess is there none in Cheap: 

Bold of his speech, and wise, and well y-taught. 

And of manhood him lackede right naught.'* 

Again it will be seen how much more 
is told by Chaucer. If you try to picture 
each, it will be seen at once how many de- 
tails Chaucer has given. ''Grave is his 
aspect and attire" — that is all Longfellow 
tells; it would fit any one of a thousand; 
and see the significance of Chaucer's words 
— "seemly," "bold of speech," "lacking 
naught of manhood"; while "grave" is all 
we have to set against them. 

Only in Shakespeare will better portrait- 
painting be found — as in the "seven ages 
of man," the "Justice, with eyes severe and 
beard of formal cut," the soldier "full of 
strange oaths, and bearded like the pard." 
Is not Chaucer a poet of the same nature? 
Tennysoncan describe as forcibly as Chau- 
cer, as is shown in his picture of the 

* Sharp. 

The Pilgrims 

miller In 'The Miller's Daughter," which 
Matthew Browne compares with Chau- 
cer's descriptions of men of the same call- 
ing; but he prefers to elaborate rather than 
to say the one right thing and leave the 
phrase. Lowell, In his essay on Chaucer, 
quotes "a verse that makes us glance over 
our shoulder as If we heard a stealthy 
tread behind us." This Is the line, already 
quoted from the Knight's Tale, describing 
a figure of Revenge : 

*« The smiler with the knife hid under the cloak." 

In fact, to help the student of Chaucer 
to know his qualities, this essay of Lowell's 
should be the first thing read. 

Meanwhile, It will be well to consider 
the characters Introduced to us as taking 
part In the Canterbury pilgrimage. They 
divide naturally Into a few groups, of 
which the first Is the Knight and his com- 
pany, he a lover of chivalry, gentle of 
speech, dignified and wise. A far-travelled 

In the Days of Chaucer 

veteran, he has just stepped ashore from 
his latest voyage, and in his armor-stained 
coat hastens to the shrine in fulfilment of 
some vow. From his interruption of the 
Monk's "Tragedies" we may conclude 
that he dislikes mournful subjects, having 
seen enough real woe to be impatient of 
fictitious troubles. 

With him is his dandyish son, the Squire, 
in richly embroidered coat, an accom- 
plished young blade of twenty years, full 
of jokes and songs, a serenader before 
ladies' windows by night, and yet courteous 
and not forward — fit material to be sobered 
by war and council into a successor of the 
Knight, his father. 

A Yeoman, an archer, is their only fol- 
lower — though this is remarked upon as 
unusual ; and in him we see the private sol- 
dier — the bowman, with round *'nut" head 
and tawny skin, who set at naught the 
charges of steel-clad knights — and also the 
man skilled in woodcraft, the Forester. 

The Pilgrims 

So much for the army and the chivalry — 
the courtier being lacking to the picture 
except in the person of Chaucer himself, 
who is kept in the background throughout. 
The Church, as has been said, claims 
about one-third of all the party, and has 
a mingling of good and bad — the dainty, 
coquettish Prioress, the poor Parson, and 
the Monk and Nuns being far better in all 
respects than the big Friar Hubert, the 
repulsive Summoner, and the yellow-haired 
Pardoner with his cynical hypocrisy. As 
for the Canon, who comes riding In haste 
to join the party at "Boghton under 
Blee," just as the tale of St. Cecilia is 
ended, he seems hardly to belong to the 
Church party, despite his title — as he is 
only an alchemist, if we trust the Yeoman, 
who Introduces him ; and Is likewise a 
swindler, if we believe that the "Canon 
Yeoman's Tale" was really about his mas- 
ter, in spite of his weak disclaimer. The 
prologue to that tale, and the tale itself, 

In the Days of Chaucer 

should by no means be overlooked by the 
reader, since otherwise some excellent de- 
scriptive writing and a good story will be 

The professional group, the Clerk, Doc- 
tor, and Man of Law, are at least respect- 
able, though none is attractive. The 
taciturn, thin Clerk, absorbed in study; the 
stingy, learned, sceptical Doctor; and the 
pompous, able Lawyer, have too little hu- 
manity about them to win friends. But 
the opposite fault is to be found with the 
business-men — the Merchant sitting high 
on his horse and looking prosperous; the 
generous white-bearded Franklin, who 
wished his son were like the young Squire ; 
the burly, noisy Miller, "Robin," with his 
spade-shaped beard, his bagpipe and his 
sword; the old Reeve, skinny, quick-tem- 
pered, riding ever hindmost of the proces- 
sion, where he may see and not be seen; 
and the prosperous tradesmen in their new 


The Pilgrims 

These do not lack humanity; they are 
much too familiar, and far too easy-going. 
Chaucer takes the trouble to tell us that 
both the Miller and the Reeve were 
"churls," and he might have saved his 
time. The Cook, also, and the Shipman 
of the bark "Magdalen," are churls, and 
the first a drunken churl at that. The only 
"wight of low degree" whom we can 
heartily approve is the industrious, self- 
. respecting Plowman, brother of the "poor 
Parson," and as virtuous as he. 

Of the Wife of Bath we can hardly 
speak critically; she is so self-sufficient, 
shrewd, and courageous that one might be 
excused for taking her enormous hat, 
"broad as a buckler," her ten-pound hand- 
kerchief, and scarlet stockings as signals of 
danger, warranting instant flight. There is 
no timid femininity about the gap-toothed 
Wife of Bath, and yet she is the master- 
ful type of women who sometimes prove 
to be the tenderest to those in trouble. 


In the Days of Chaucer 

If there is among the pilgrims no gra- 
cious type of woman, though Chaucer has 
proved in more than one place that he 
could describe gentle and noble woman- 
hood, may it not have been that such 
women then were busy in their homes — as, 
in our own days, the same type find their 
earthly pilgrimages can be made nearer 
home, and to better advantage? 

In turning from the delightful "Canter- 
bury Tales" there is a sense of gratitude 
that the tooth of Time has spared this 
great treasure of our literature. Incom- 
plete the poet left it, and even more in- 
complete it may have come to us; but, like 
some fragment of a Greek statue, nothing 
can replace it. 

Mrs. Browning says : "He sent us a 
train of pilgrims, each with a distinct in- 
dividuality apart from the pilgrimage, all 
the way from Southwark and the Tabard 
Inn, to Canterbury and Becket's shrine: 
and their laughter comes never to an end, 

The Pilgrims 

and their talk goes on with the stars, and 
all the railroads which may Intersect the 
spoilt earth forever, cannot hush the 
'tramp, tramp' of their horses' feet." 


AFTER Chaucer's death 

Leaving untold the rest of the tales of 
his body of pilgrims, the poet died on the 
twenty-fifth of October, 1400, as we know 
from the inscription that once was carved 
upon his monument in the Abbey; and this 
was copied, it is believed, from his tomb- 
stone, for the monument was not erected 
until 1556, when Nicholas Brigham, an 
admirer, replaced the earlier stone by a 
tomb of gray marble. 

The second memorial to the poet has 
also suffered during the three hundred and 
fifty years of its existence, and its lettering, 
together with a full-length portrait of 
Chaucer, is nearly gone. 

But Chaucer was the first literary 
celebrity to occupy a place in England's 

After Chaucer's Death 

pantheon of fame, and as other poets were 
laid near him, the "Poets' Corner" was 
consecrated to men of letters. 

How much was Indicated by Chaucer's 
burial In the Abbey we cannot tell; but 
there Is no doubt that before his death he 
had received the recognition that was his 
right. There are enough lines In his praise 
to prove that the writers of his own days 
knew him for a master. Another proof of 
his popularity Is the large number of 
manuscripts that must have been In ex- 
istence In his lifetime or not many years 
afterwards, since many yet remain. 

To Occleve, an appreciative friend If 
not himself a great poet, we owe the por- 
trait which has already been described. A 
copy of It Is the frontispiece to this volume. 
Gower, a poet of higher rank than Occleve, 
showed his admiration for Chaucer by fol- 
lowing his example In writing poems In 
English, rather than in Latin or French. 
Lydgate, a younger man than either Gower 

In the Days of Chaucer 

or Chaucer, took pains to testify his admi- 
ration in more than one of his writings. 

Indeed, Chaucer's range was so wide, 
and he was so excellent in the various styles 
he adopted, that it was hard not to be his 
follower unless a poet chose to adopt the 
older models set by the balladists or to 
write in the ruder form chosen by Lang- 
land. Little room for originalit}^ was left 
to the poets who survived; and it was not 
until new ways of thinking, new views of 
the world, had broadened men's outlook 
that there was room for the great Eliza- 
bethan poets. 

Taine, in his "English Literature," finds 
that Chaucer himself was unable to escape 
entirely from the narrowing philosophy of 
the age, and blames that philosophy for 
the intolerable dulness of such productions 
as the "Boethius," the "Melibeus," and 
the "Parson's Tale." When Chaucer felt 
bound to be "improving," he was quite as 
tiresome as the dull preachers of his day; 

After Chaucer s Death 

and It was only when the poet felt free to 
be amusing or delightful that he wrote 
with the full power of his genius. 

Chaucer's successors and contemporaries 
did not seem to have his power of occa- 
sional escape Into freedom. Gower and 
Occleve, Lydgate, and the lesser lights sel- 
dom wander from the set "morals" and 
"examples" that repel the modern reader. 
We have drawn a line between literature 
and the school-book or book of sermons, 
and prefer each unmixed, or at least prop- 
erly labelled. The people of the Middle 
Ages were likely to divide all discourse 
Into two great classes — the moral and the 
moral-less. The poet did not wish to be 
classed with the jesters, buffoons, street- 
singers, or wandering balladlsts, and so 
was likely to put Into his poems much too 
large a dose of sermonizing. 

Chaucer had been able, being a man of 
remarkable genius, to retain his high rank 
as a poet and yet to give himself unusual 

In the Days of Chaucer 

freedom in subjects and in treatment. No 
poet, for years after his death, was capable 
of succeeding to Chaucer's place. 

The three men already named were the 
ablest writers of their time except Lang- 
land, who was of a different order and 
wrote for another audience. By common 
consent Gower, the "moral Gower," as 
Chaucer called him, is the most important. 
We will speak briefly of Chaucer's influ- 
ence upon these three writers, giving 
Gower the first place. 

We know the two poets were friends, 
and have seen that during the second of 
Chaucer's absences from England in Italy 
Gower was one of two friends appointed 
to represent him. Gower, in an epilogue 
to his English poem, the "Confessio Aman- 
tis," spoke of Chaucer at some length, in 
a passage often quoted. But there is also 
an interesting story told in the prologue 
to that poem, for Gower says that he, 
while rowing on the Thames, met the 

After Chaucer's Death 

barge of Richard II, and was Invited 
aboard, and after some talk was requested 
by the king to produce some more poetical 
work, "to book some new thing In the way 
he was used." Though old and weakened 
by Illness, Gower consented, and wrote the 
"Confesslo," dedicating it to the king. 
The first edition of this poem In Its epi- 
logue represented Venus as giving to the 
poet a message to be delivered to Chaucer. 
The end of It reads thus : 

" Thou shalt him tellen this message. 
That he, upon his later age. 
To set an end to all his work 
As he which is mine owen clerk, 
Do make his testament of love 
As thou hast done thy shrift above. 
So that my court it may record.'* 

But in a later and revised edition the 
poem is dedicated to Henry, Duke of Lan- 
caster, instead of Richard II, though the 
poem is stated to be written while Richard 
was still on the throne, in the sixteenth 

In the Days of Chaucer 

year of his reign — that is, between June, 
1392, and June, 1393. 

Besides changing the dedication, Gower 
left out the reference to Chaucer ; and some 
argue from this a quarrel — another of the 
wild suppositions from flimsy evidence. 
At all events, they were friends for some 
time; and since Gower was dignified, 
learned, and rich, we may assume that 
Chaucer was not such as Gower would dis- 
approve as a friend or hesitate to follow as 
a leader in the fashion of writing poetry 
In English. 

From another part of the epilogue 
already quoted we learn on Gower's au- 
thority that Chaucer's poems — his "ditties 
and his songes glad" — have filled the 
whole land. From Chaucer we get the 
term "the moral Gower," a description 
that will always exist; and we also may 
read a passage where two stories contained 
in the "Confessio Amantis" are cited as 
the sort of shocking incidents Chaucer 

After Chaucer s Death 

thinks poets should not Include In their 
verse, since poetry should not deal with 
what is revolting. 

There is therefore plenty to show that 
in John Gower we know one of Chaucer's 
closest friends, and that this friend was a 
man of excellent character and held In 
high repute, though it is Professor Louns- 
bury's opinion that he never approached 
Chaucer In popularity, in poetical skill, or 
In true merit. 

Lydgate should no doubt come next to 
Gower, but It will be enough to say that 
this "monk of Bury'' was In poetr^^ the 
scholar of Chaucer, and composed more 
than tvv^o hundred and fifty pieces of the 
greatest variety and of differing value. 
Some critics call his works rubbish; others 
say he has been "oftener abused than 
read," as Disraeli records In his "Ameni- 
ties of Literature." We thank the liter- 
ary monk for two references to Chaucer. 
He says that "this said poet, my master, 

In the Days of Chaucer 

composed full many a fresh ditty, com- 
plaints, ballades, roundels, virelays"; and 
he also tells us that Chaucer never allowed 
himself to be worried by small faults or 
criticisms, but did his best in his work and 
let it go at that. 

Disraeli also quotes from Warton, the 
early historian of English poetry, a state- 
ment showing that Lydgate was a veritable 
Jack-of -all-work in writing, composing 
verses for pageants, making up masques, 
or furnishing songs or cards for all holi- 
days and festivals. That Coleridge and 
Gray admired Lydgate more than Gower 
is learned also from Disraeli's article in the 
book already quoted — one of that delight- 
ful series all lovers of English literature 
should possess. 

Occleve (or Hoccleve) also is treated 
in another of Disraeli's essays, and opin- 
ions for and against him are w^eighed; but 
we must at all events remember with grat- 
itude that he caused the portrait of Chau- 


After Chaucer s Death 

cer to be handed down to us — the only 
others named by the authorities being a 
painting in the Bodleian Library and one 
in the British Museum. Possibly Occleve's 
is the original of all. 

Only the special student need look be- 
yond the three poets already named for 
early successors or followers of Chaucer. 
All who have studied the times agree that 
there was a long delay before there was 
any poetry comparable to his, and that it 
was in Scotland the English poet found his 
worthiest followers for many a long year 
after his voice was silent. 

One advantage came from this. Chau- 
cer's language became the main source of 
literary English. Had there been other 
poets to follow him closely in varying dia- 
lects his influence would have been les- 
sened. But his English — that Southeast 
Midland dialect, the talk of the court, of 
London — was left to work its way alone, 
so far as literature went. You will find in 

In the Days of Chaucer 

histories of literature how the bards of 
the North, the Scots, were led to follow 
the Father of English Poetry, and to 
learn from him the skill and graces he had 
learned partly from Petrarch, Dante, and 
Boccaccio. You will read something of 
Thomas the Rhymer, of Andrew of Wyn- 
toun, especially of Robert Henryson, a 
monk or schoolmaster, and of James I of 
Scotland, the last two being professed fol- 
lowers and scholars of Chaucer. 

Then you will see how Caxton, who set 
up his printing-press in Westminster, also 
printed his books in the common tongue of 
London — the same Midland dialect, and 
thus helped to make it the standard Eng- 
lish. But here we need consider only these 
general facts, and remember how it is to 
Chaucer's poems that we owe the form of 
our language. 

Lowell says that Chaucer's genius gave 
the language life, and showed its power. 
"In this sense," he writes, "it Is hardly too 

After Chaucer's Death 

much to say that Chaucer, like Dante, 
found his native tongue a dialect and left 
it a language. But it was not what he did 
with deliberate purpose of reform, it was 
his kindly and plastic genius that wrought 
this magic of renewal and inspiration. It 
was not the new words he introduced, but 
his way of using the old ones that sur- 
prised them into grace, ease, and dignity 
in their own despite." 

But this question of language is inci- 
dental, after all. What kept Chaucer's 
poems alive and made them a continuing 
influence was something lying far deeper 
than language or choice of words. For 
the first time in English poetry we see real 
men and women, drawn so they do not 
lose their character and individuality, and 
so combined In action and happening as to 
give us a complete work of art. "It is his 
largeness of heart, his wide tolerance, 
which enables him to reflect man for us as 
none but Shakespeare has ever reflected 

In the Days of Chaucer 

him; and to do this with a pathos, a 
shrewd sense, and kindly humor, a fresh- 
ness and joyousness of feeling that even 
Shakespeare has not surpassed," is Green's 
verdict in his "History of the English Peo- 
ple," a verdict that will perhaps surprise 
some readers by the comparison with 

The death of Chaucer preceded a 
stormy period in English letters, a time 
when poetry was hardly to find a hearing 
for many years, and then was to make up 
for long silence by the brilliance of the age 
of Elizabeth. Meanwhile, wherever there 
is still poetical life, the influence of Chau- 
cer is to be traced, now in a quotation, now 
by the borrowing of a plot, and again in 
the use of metres he introduced or de- 
vised, or in a popular ballad that told in 
shorter form such a story as that of "Pa- 
tient Griselda." 

When Henry VII was firmly estab- 
lished on the throne, and the White and 

After Chaucer s Death 

Red Roses were reconciled, the poets con- 
sidered themselves as the successors to the 
men of the fourteenth century, and were 
glad to write in praise of the earlier mas- 
ters. Here again it is impossible to quote 
the passages without treating the subject 
from a text-book standpoint. 

Ward's "Chaucer" gives shortly an ex- 
cellent sketch of the obligations of these 
writers to Chaucer, citing as examples 
Hawes, who wrote a chapter in praise of 
Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate; Barklay, 
whose "Ship of Fools" shows traces of an 
influence from the "Canterbury Tales"; 
Skelton, whose patron was likewise an 
editor of Chaucer's works; Heywood, who 
quoted or stole lines of Chaucer's; and 
Tottel, who included in a poetic miscellany 
"The Good Counsel of Chaucer." 

Reaching the Elizabethans, there is 
found the same sort of evidence that Geof- 
frey Chaucer had not lost his hold upon 
either readers or writers. All speak of 

In the Days of Chaucer 

him or show that his works are known. 
We shall find in the next chapter verses 
from Spenser, words of praise from Sir 
Philip Sidney, lines from Drayton, all 
singing the praises of the Father of Eng- 
lish Poetry, while an examination of the 
works of the early dramatists will show 
that borrowings from the rich store of his 
works was quite a habit in the days of good 
Queen Bess. 

Later in English history came a time 
when Chaucer was less thought of. The 
days of the civil war in England were in 
no way favorable to his fame. Though 
now and then is to be found a writer re- 
ferring to him as the greatest of English 
poets, they are but following the fashion 
of preceding years. He was read to some 
extent, but it was by men of scholarly 
tastes, such as Milton, who made in a re- 
cently discovered commonplace book sev- 
eral extracts from Chaucer. 

As time w^ent on there arose the belief 

After Chaucer's Death 

that, because of his unintelligible English, 
Chaucer was to be forgotten, and some 
men believed that in order that any work 
in literature should survive it must be put 
into Latin. Lord Bacon, much earlier, had 
been of the same opinion. Chaucer's 
"Troilus and Criseyde" was consequently 
published with a Latin translation on op- 
posite pages. Then, too, many tried to 
modernize his language. 

But here and there throughout England 
were readers of the old English poet, and 
by these men the lamp of admiration was 
kept alive, and this in spite of those who 
looked upon his verses as uncouth and 
rough because they had no idea how they 
should be read to bring out their music. 
And when the days of Pope and Dryden 
came to an end, when less artificial stand- 
ards were adopted, the admiration and 
appreciation of Chaucer revived and in- 

To-day he is perhaps considered greater 

In the Days of Chaucer 

than ever before. Professor Lounsbury, 
in his introduction to his "Studies in Chau- 
cer," asserts that Chaucer had probably- 
been more read during the twenty years 
from 1 87 1 to 1 89 1 (the latter being the 
date at which these studies appeared) 
than during the preceding two centuries. 
In England the Chaucer Society has done 
everything for the study and popularizing 
of his works, and editions of the poems or 
studies relating to the author are numerous 
enough to show that they appeal to a large 
and widening circle. 

As we gradually learn more of the 
poet's life and personality, we inevitably 
are drawn to him and to his works, and 
soon find that he is a necessary link In the 
long chain of writers who have made for us 
that literature in which the mental life of 
mankind is preserved. We get rid of the 
temporary fashions or ideas that attach us 
for a time to writers who have only a lim- 
ited range or purpose, and come more and 

After Chaucer s Death 

more to hold In regard the great, broad- 
minded writers — among whom Chaucer is 
winning, if he has not already won his 




William Caxton, the first English 
printer, and also the first to print any of 
Chaucer's works, was born more than 
twenty years after the poet's death; ap- 
prentice to a mercer, he left England 
shortly after receiving a legacy from his 
master, and went to the Netherlands, 
where he prospered in Bruges as a mer- 
chant. When nearly fifty Caxton visited 
Cologne, and there learned printing. Re- 
turning to Bruges, he produced the first 
book printed in English, "The Recuyell 
of the Histories of Troy," and two others. 

At the age of fifty-five Caxton set up 
his press near Westminster Abbey, where 
he printed small pamphlets, certain writ- 
ings of Lydgate's among others, and be- 

His Editors 

fore long brought out the first edition of 
the "Canterbury Tales," a big folio edi- 
tion of 748 pages. Chaucer's "Boethius" 
also appeared within Caxton's first three 
years in London, and Gower's "Confessio" 
was printed not long afterward, and then 
the "Canterbury Tales" was issued in a 
second, corrected edition. 

A reprint of the Tales was issued also 
by Wynkyn de Worde, Caxton's appren- 
tice and successor. But others had learned 
the art and mystery of printing, for within 
thirty-four years after Caxton's beginning 
four hundred books had come from Eng- 
lish presses. 

The first printing of Chaucer is not 
dated, but is believed to have been pub- 
lished about 1478. In 1484 Caxton had 
found the manuscript he had used was 
faulty, and had secured a better one for 
the second edition. From Caxton's press 
had come, besides the "Canterbury Tales," 
several other poems of Chaucer's; but it 

In the Days of Chaucer 

was not until 1526, a century and a quar- 
ter after the poet's death, that any attempt 
was made to bring together his works, 
which was done by a printer named 

Next, in 1532, came an edition super- 
vised by Thynne, Chief Clerk of the 
Kitchen to Henry VIII, who ransacked all 
the libraries of England to make the text 
as perfect as possible; but one of the most 
learned writers on Chaucer preferred Cax- 
ton's second issue. 

Then other editions appeared in 1550 
and 1 56 1, many poems not belonging to 
Chaucer being added; and in 1598 ap- 
peared another with a life of Chaucer, 
and other helps to the reader. This, ex- 
panded, came out again in 1602, and then, 
as Professor Lounsbury says, "the text 
was to remain undisturbed for more than 
two hundred years.'' 

One thing is to be noted, however, in 
an edition bearing the date 172 1. Hith- 

His Editors 

erto Chaucer had been printed always In 
the type known as black-letter, and this had 
made it certain that only scholars would 
dare read it ; the Urry edition was put into 
ordinary type, despite the wails of certain 
antiquaries. As the years went on, vari- 
ous attempts were made to bring out a 
fitting edition, but none especially com- 
mendable was completed. Dr. Johnson at 
one time thought to undertake the work, 
and wrote out a scheme for it, but went 
no further. The poet Gray studied Chau- 
cer's metre, and believed that ignorance of 
early English was to blame for the ap- 
parent difficulty in reading the poems 

But it was in 1775 that a capable editor 
at last appeared to take in hand the editing 
of Chaucer. This was Thomas Tyrwhitt, 
educated at Eton and Oxford, who died 
while curator of the British Museum In 

He edited the "Canterbury Tales" only, 

In the Days of Chaucer 

but did it so thoroughly that his version of 
the text has ever since been received as 
superior to all others, except for matters 
in which later knowledge has been ac- 
quired. Tyrwhitt had exquisite literary 
taste, and made Chaucer clear and intel- 
ligible so far as the learning of the time 

But before Chaucer could be read 
musically and fully understood it was nec- 
essary to recover a fuller knowledge of 
the language he wrote ; and this work was 
well done, especially by Gesenius, the 
German scholar, and Professor Child, 
of Harvard; and at the suggestion of the 
latter the Chaucer Society was founded in 
1867. This society brought out a six- 
column edition of the "Canterbury Tales," 
and other most valuable publications, 
which have enormously stimulated study 
of the poet, and have put into the hands 
of readers excellent editions, well-punct- 
uated, annotated, cleared of blunders, and 

His Editors 

generally readable, though they have tried 
to guard against unnecessary changes, be- 
lieving an unintelligible line often better 
than a doubtful correction. 

The work is still going on, for Chaucer 
covers so wide a field that nearly every 
new fact we learn about the fourteenth 
century is likely to aid us in understanding 
some reference in his poems. Only by a 
close personal study of his poems can it be 
understood how many a difficulty has been 
cleared away for us, and what laborious 
hours have gone to the correction of a 
single small error. Indeed, it is worth 
while to read somewhat closely the history 
of Chaucer's texts, so that v/e may un- 
derstand the debt we owe to the patient 
scholarship which is reconstructing for us 
the work done by our early poets and 

Certainly Chaucer would have been 
deeply grateful to all who try to make 
his text clear, as we know from at least 


In the X)ays of Chaucer 

two passages he has written. One is a 
little poem addressed to his "scrivener," 
Adam. It is short enough to quote entire : 

"Adam, scriven, if ever it thee befalle 
Boece or Troilus for to writen new, 
Under thy long locks thou must have the scalle* 
Butj- after my making thou write more true. 
So oft a day I must thy work renew. 
It to correct and eke to rub and scrape; 
And all is through thy negligence and rape. | ' ' 

Of course this is playful, but it shows 
that mistakes were made and that Chaucer 
was not careless about them. The other 
passage occurs toward the end of "Troilus 
and Criseyde," and runs thus: 

•* And, for there is so great diversity 

In English, and in writing oi our tongue, 
So pray I God that none miswrite thee. 
Nor thee mis-metre, for default of tongue; 
And read whereso thou be, or elles§ sung. 
That thou be understood, I God beseech.'* 

* Scald. t Unless. + Haste. § Else. 


His Editors 

But Chaucer could not then know that, 
with the best wish to do him justice, we do 
not quite understand just how his poems 
are to be read in metre. There are two 
schools in regard to metre in poetry. One 
makes metre a matter of syllables, the 
other a matter of accenting. One thinks a 
line is not metrical if it cannot be brought 
under certain rules of scansion (w^ith ex- 
ceptions galore, by the way) ; the other 
school insists that any line is good in 
metre if it is good in musical reading. Ed- 
gar A. Poe has treated this subject very 
interestingly in his essay, "The Rationale 
of Verse"; but it is not to be denied that 
there are good authorities and good argu- 
ments on each side, and that in different 
languages different rules apply. 

Good editions of Chaucer usually con- 
tain such directions in regard to his metre 
as will enable readers to find him musical, 
and those who intend to go deeply into the 
subject will have no difficulty in securing 

In the Days of Chaucer 

reading matter in plenty to occupy all the 
leisure they care to give. 

Lowell believes Chaucer "one of the 
best versifiers that ever made English trip 
and sing with a gayety that seems careless, 
but where every foot beats time to the tune 
of the thought," and we may surely rest 
satisfied with any method of reading that 
leaves the poet his music, and makes neces- 
sary no great violence to the laws of accent- 
ing and pronunciation. 

In the manuscript days, when to pro- 
duce a single copy of the Bible took so 
long that it required twenty scribes and a 
year's work to produce an edition of one 
hundred, the manuscript of a celebrated 
poem was a possession to be cherished. 
We are told that Froissart prepared for 
Richard II a presentation copy of essays 
which is thus described : 

"It was illuminated and bound in silver- 
gilt velvet with studs of silver-gilt, and 
gold roses in the centre, with two great 

His Editors 

gold clasps richly wrought In the middle 
with golden rose-sprays." No wonder the 
gift greatly pleased the king — as we are 
told it did. 

But though manuscripts were so val- 
uable, copyists were as fallible then as 
now; and with fifty surviving manuscripts 
of the "Canterbury Tales" we cannot 
always find a single correct version of a 
puzzling passage. The copyists copied 
others' mistakes and introduced new ones. 
Ignorant editors made changes that were 
uncalled for and absurd, and to-day there 
remain more than a few passages that can- 
not be made sensible, and references to 
matters lost in the lumber-room of by- 
gone customs. 

Still, we have enough of Chaucer's un- 
doubted and genuine work in carefully 
edited texts to enable us to appreciate his 
genius fully, and may leave the disputed 
matters to the scholars engaged in un- 
tangling literary puzzles, only remember- 

In the Days of Chaucer 

Ing to be grateful for their labors In 
making our paths clear. 

Nor is it only a clearing of the text that 
has helped us to know the poet. Much 
more important has been the work of sepa- 
rating from the genuine poems an enor- 
mous mass of verse that had been dumped 
at Chaucer's door by the rivalry of editors 
wishing to bring out the most complete 
editions of his works. Not only did these 
spurious poems affect the poet's reputation 
as a poet, but by careful examination of 
their text, biographers had gathered a lot 
of so-called "facts" about his life and char- 
acter (or rather. Inferences) that sorely In- 
jured the poet as a 

To go over these In detail would defeat 
the very purpose of leaving them out In 
this account of the poet's life. But there 
Is one story you will find referred to or 
told in full In all the older accounts of 
Chaucer. This refers to a supposed inci- 
dent in his political career. We have been 

His Editors 

assured that Chaucer was involved in a 
civil commotion or political quarrel due to 
his favoring the election of Sir John 
Northampton. This candidate's defeat 
for the mayoralty of London in 1384 was 
followed by persecution of his supporters, 
the friends of John of Gaunt, and Chau- 
cer was said to have fled to the continent. 
Returning, he was imprisoned, and re- 
leased only when he consented to betray 
his friends. 

All this story was based mainly on facts 
concocted from statements made in a 
long dialogue called "The Testament of 
Love,'* and was greatly elaborated in 
Godwin's life of Chaucer — Godwin being 
the father-in-law of Shelley, and his book 
appearing in 1803 — a book so full of fan- 
ciful details that even the author's wife 
spoke of this defect, as Charles Lamb 

But the story of the imprisonment was 
based on so flimsy a foundation that the 


In the Days of Chaucer 

critics have utterly demolished the whole 
structure. Sir Nicholas Harris proved 
that Chaucer during his supposed exile 
was really in London, drawing his pensions 
in person; also that the poet was a mem- 
ber of Parliament when the story required 
him to be a prisoner in the Tower of Lon- 
don or elsewhere. "The Testament of 
Love" itself was attacked, and shown by 
two others, Collier in England and Hertz- 
berg in Germany, to contain nearly con- 
clusive proof that it was not Chaucer's, 
being different in style, language, and 
method; and also referring to its writer in 
the first person, Chaucer in the third; 
while it praised Chaucer, in terms that 
modest poet could never have used, for 
certain arguments the poet had taken from 
Boethius. So did the doughty critics rend 
this part of what Professor Lounsbury 
calls "the Chaucer legend" — that amazing 
web of fanciful falsehood time and igno- 
rance have woven around him. 

His Editors 

Other false or doubtful statements fre- 
quently met with are assertions that he 
was educated at Oxford (or Cambridge) ; 
that he declared he was born in London; 
that he read law in the Middle Temple 
and beat a friar in Fleet Street (a story 
that was greatly expanded by Chatterton) ; 
that he owned a house at Woodstock, or 
composed poems under some certain oak- 
tree, called "Chaucer's Oak." All these 
stories rest upon insufficient foundation. 
There may be some suggestions of truth in 
them, but if there is we cannot disentangle 
it from the falsity. 

It will be seen, therefore, that the care- 
ful study of the text of his works is a 
matter of the greatest importance. Had 
the spurious "Testament of Love" re- 
mained among Chaucer's works, it would 
have made us fear the poet had proved 
himself a traitor and a turncoat — to say 
nothing of the injury done his reputation 
by a very stupid, long-winded companion 

In the Days of Chaucer 

to those other boresome works — the "Me- 
libeus" and the 'Tarson's Tale." 

There are still included under Chaucer's 
name a number of pieces that may one day 
be excluded, for the study of both his life 
and his works is being busily carried on in 
England, Germany, and America, by schol- 
ars who are by their own labors making 
themselves and their successors more ca- 
pable of judging between the false and 
the true. There are still masses of public 
records and private papers that may in- 
crease the knowledge of the doings of the 
men among whom Chaucer lived ; and it is 
one of the pleasures of making his acquaint- 
ance that we may prepare ourselves to 
share the satisfaction coming from sifting 
truth out of hampering falsities. 

We should all be glad to know the exact 
date of the poet's birth, his marriage, the 
death of his wife ; whether Thomas Chau- 
cer was his son, whether his wife was 
really Philippa Roet, what became of his 

His Editors 

little son Lewis; the right dates for all of 
his poems; whether he met Petrarch In 
Italy; where he gained his education, 
where he was Imprisoned In France, why 
he left his "Canterbury Tales" unfinished, 
which part of the ''Romance of the Rose" 
is his own — and solutions to an endless 
number of minor puzzles that arise in 
reading the poems. 

Yet, If one will compare the biographies 
of a century or more ago with so complete 
a story of the poet's life as Is given in, for 
example, the "Dictionary of National Bi- 
ography," we shall be encouraged to be- 
lieve that progress toward the light will 
continue, and be confident that errors will 
be one by one detected. 




Nathaniel Hawthorne, in speaking 
of the Poets' Corner of Westminster 
Abbey, declares that the spirit of a poet is 
the only one that "survives for his fellow- 
mortals after his bones are in the dust. 
What other fame," he asks, "Is worth as- 
piring for? Or, let me speak It more 
boldly, what other long-enduring fame 
can exist? We neither remember nor care 
anything for the past, except as the poet 
has made it Intelligibly noble and sublime 
to our comprehension. The shades of the 
mighty have no substance; they flit inef- 
fectually about the darkened stage, where 
they performed their momentary parts, 
save when the poet has thrown his own 
creative soul Into them, and imparted a 
more vivid life than ever they were able to 

Poets' Testimony 

manifest to mankind while they dwelt in 
the body. And therefore, though he cun- 
ningly disguises himself in their armor, 
their robes of state or kingly purple — it is 
not the statesman, the warrior or the mon- 
arch that survives, but the despised poet, 
whom they may have fed with their 
crumbs, and to whom they owe all that 
they now are or have — a name!'* 

Then passing on to the royal tombs In 
the Abbey, he declares that the helmet and 
war-saddle of Henry V are memorable 
more for Shakespeare's sake than for the 
victor's own. 

Hawthorne is led by the crowded state 
of the Poets' Corner into a reflection that 
"all the literary people who really make 
an essential part of one's inner life might 
have ample elbow-room to sit down and 
quaff their draughts of Castaly round 
Chaucer's broad, horizontal tombstone." 

Whether the author of "The Scarlet 
Letter" would place Chaucer himself at 

In the Days of Chaucer 

the banquet of Immortals he does not say; 
but his claim to rank with the greatest is 
hardly doubtful after it has been recog- 
nized by so many generations. We have 
spoken already of his contemporaries and 
their reverence for him, of Lydgate, who 
seldom wrote a long piece without tributes 
to the "chief poet of Britain"; of Occleve, 
who left us his portrait; of Gower, vrho 
recorded the wide-spread popularity of his 
work; of Froissart, who gave the flattery 
of imitation; of the Scottish bards, his de- 
voted students and followers. But to these, 
having no room to quote, we must add 
merely the names of Ascham, the tutor of 
Queen Elizabeth; of Camden, the learned 
antiquary, both of whom called Chaucer 
the "English Homer"; and Eustace Des- 
champs, the French author, who spoke of 
that "grand translateur Geffroy Chaucier," 
and then pass abruptly on to men better 
known to us — to Sir Philip Sidney and 
Edmund Spenser, the Elizabethan poets. 

Poets' Testimony 

About 1579, a young collegian, who had 
been an actor, but had left the stage for the 
pulpit, Issued a pamphlet attacking "Poets, 
Pipers, Players, Jesters, and such like Cat- 
erpillars of a Commonwealth." This little 
satire was dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, 
and two years afterward Sidney wrote his 
"Apology for Poetry," which was not Is- 
sued until 1595. 

This work of Sidney's is really a defence 
of fiction In the widest sense, and Is justly 
considered one of the notable books of our 
literature. Incidentally he gives us his Idea 
of Chaucer In these words : 

"Chaucer, undoubtedly, did excellently 
In his Troylus and Cressid; of whom truly 
I know not whether to marvel more either 
that he In that misty time could see so 
clearly or that we In this clear age walk 
so stumblingly after him. Yet had he 
great wants, fitte to be forgiven In so rev- 
erent antiquity." 

There Is not much enthusiasm here ; but 

In the Days of Chaucer 

that is characteristic of Sidney's style, and 
somewhat due to his great respect for the 
classic authors. He always speaks com- 
posedly, and within bounds. Spenser is less 
restrained. He, in his "Shepherd's Calen- 
dar," does not scruple to give Chaucer the 
highest place in the often quoted passage 
where, celebrating Chaucer under the name 
"Tityrus" and meaning poets by "shep- 
herds," he says: 

** The god of shepherds, Tityrus, is dead. 
Who taught me, homely as I can, to make*; 
He while he lived was the sovereign head 
Of shepherds all that been with love y-take; 
Well could he wail his woes, and lightly slake 
The flames which love within his heart had bred. 
And tell us merry tales to keep us wake 
The while our sheep about us safely fed. 

Now dead he is, and lieth wrapt in lead; 

(Oh, why should Death on him such outrage show!) 

And all his passing skill with him is fled. 

The fame whereof doth daily greater grow. 

* Write poetry. 

Poets' Testimony 

But if on me some little drops would flow 
Of that the spring was in his learned head, 
I soon would learn these woods to wail my woe, 
And teach the trees their trickling tears to shed." 

There are also references to Chaucer in 
others of Spenser's poems, as in the first 
stanza of "Colin Clout's Come Home 
Again," and in the "Faery Queene," where 
he begs pardon of Chaucer for attempting 
to complete the "Squire's Tale," in the 
second canto of Book IV. It is in this pas- 
sage that we find the famous lines : 

*« Dan Chaucer, well of English undefiled, 

On Fame's eternal bead-roll worthy to be filed." 

"Dan," by the way, is derived from 
"domnus," mediaeval for "dominus," and 
is the same word which the Spanish have 
retained in their title "Don," as "Don 

Spenser shows Chaucer's influence in so 
many places that there is not space to note 
them. His "Mother Hubberd's Tale" is 


In the Days of Chaucer 

written in direct imitation of his master's 
style, and copies even the tricks of phras- 
ing. Indeed, we may regard Spenser as 
Chaucer's disciple and imitator, though he 
is in some qualities ranked higher. 

Shakespeare also shows traces of Chau- 
cer's influence, but in slight degree. His 
"Troilus and Cressida" has reminiscences 
of the earlier poem; his "Midsummer- 
Night's Dream" owes something to Chau- 
cer's "Knight's Tale"; and "The Two 
Noble Kinsmen," which once had Shake- 
speare's name attached to it, is based upon 
the same story of "Palamon and Arcite" ; 
but the great dramatist does not mention 
Chaucer by name, unless in the prologue 
to the last-named play — now not attributed 
to Shakespeare's sole authorship. 

Pepys, in his famous diary, speaks of 
considering the purchase of a "Chaucer," 
and afterward tells of having his copy 
bound. Later references indicate that 
Pepys became an admirer of the poet, and 

Poets' Testimony 

Professor Lounsbury tells us that it was at 
the instance of Pepys that Dryden wrote 
his version of the character of ihe Parson, 
imitating the passage in the prologue to 
the "Canterbury Tales." The poet Dray- 
ton describes Chaucer as 

'* First of those that ever brake 
Into the Muses' treasure, and first spake 
In weighty numbers." 

Dryden, while he confesses that Chau- 
cer's "verse is not harmonious to us," yet 
imitated and modernized certain of his 
poems, in a way that seemed to make them 
more agreeable to his own time, though 
later critics have ridiculed the revisions 
once admired. Dryden wrote, "I seriously 
protest that no man ever had or can 
have a greater veneration for Chaucer 
than myself," but whether this venera- 
tion has led him to full appreciation of 
the poems is questioned by good critics, 
and must be decided by the best taste of 

In the Days of Chaucer 

readers who study both. At all events, a 
study of the Tales modernized by Dryden 
will be of the greatest help to the student 
in appreciating Chaucer's pecuHar quali- 
ties, and may be recommended to teachers 
of literature as an improving exercise for 

From Milton there is little to quote. "II 
Penseroso" has the lines: 

*< Or call up him that left half- told 
The story of Cambuscan bold. 
Of Camball, and of Algarsife, 
And who had Canace to wife. 
That owned the virtuous ring and glass. 
And of the wondrous horse of brass 
On which the Tartar King did ride." 

But these do little more than indicate that 
Chaucer was read by the Puritan poet. In 
the Latin poem, "Mansus," there is a line 
referring to Chaucer as Tityrus again: 

** Quin et in has quondam pervenit Tityrus oras," 

but it shows only that Chaucer once wan- 
dered along the banks of the "silver 

Poets* Testimony 

Thames"; and except for a few mentions 
In his argumentative tracts, we have no 
other trace of Chaucer In Milton's works. 

So exhaustively has Professor Louns- 
bury examined Into the traces of "Chaucer 
In Literary History," In his essays of that 
name, that It would be absurd for us not to 
avail ourselves of his learning. Here can 
be given only the briefest suggestion of 
the facts he gives In fulness, and those 
who desire to go farther may consult his 
"Studies in Chaucer." 

In the eighteenth century It became a 
fashion to imitate some of Chaucer's com- 
positions, and this Is traced to Dryden's es- 
say In praise of the poet. Among the best- 
known Imitators were Pope, Prior, and 
Gay, but little can be said In praise of any 
of the attempts, since, like most Imitators, 
they found It easier to copy unimportant 
details than to reproduce the spirit or 
grace of the original. To bring the poet 
within the comprehension of readers of 

In the Days of Chaucer 

the time was a professed purpose of these 
versions, for it was thought that his lan- 
guage was so difficult as to be unintelligible 
except to scholars who had made it a spe- 
cial study. Hence we have Pope regard- 
ing Chaucer as obsolete, and forecasting 
the time when others as modern as Dryden 
would share the same fate, as we see in 
these lines from his "Essay on Criticism": 

** Now length of fame (our second life) is lost. 
And bare three-score is all even that can boast. 
Our sons their fathers' failing language see. 
And such as Chaucer is, shall Dryden be." 

It was a universal opinion that the lan- 
guage would vary until that of each time 
would become hardly readable to poster- 
ity; and so many wished to adopt some 
way of fixing the language — some stand- 
ard of authority or usage. The same wish 
may now and then be heard from the hps 
of men to-day, though one would think 
that the five hundred years that have left 

Poets' Testimony 

Chaucer still readable might reassure them. 

We can hardly sum up better the at- 
tempts of various writers to replace Chau- 
,cer by something else than in Professor 
Lounsbury's words: "By Dry den the gold 
of Chaucer had been turned into silver. 
The laborious alchemy of the eighteenth 
century went still farther and turned it into 

Though the nineteenth century ap- 
proached Chaucer with a wish to explain 
rather than to modify, the attempt pro- 
duced three more failures, those by Thur- 
low, Wordsworth, and Leigh Hunt, none 
of which is worth reading so long as the 
originals are obtainable. There was a 
project set on foot in 1841 to recast a great 
part of Chaucer's works by the co-operation 
of a number of literary lights, of whom 
Mrs. Browning (Miss Barrett, then) was 
one. Walter Savage Landor refused to as- 
sist, and in a letter declared "Chaucer was 
worth a dozen Spensers"; adding, "Par- 

In the Days of Chaucer 

don me, if I say I would rather see Chau- 
cer quite alone in the dew of the morning, 
than with twenty clever gentlefolks about 
him, arranging his shoestrings and button- 
ing his doublet." 

But the first volume — full of errors and 
absurdities — appeared, and was received 
in such a manner as to cause any thought 
of a second to be abandoned. For there 
were many who had studied Chaucer until 
they could understand what he lost in these 
attempts to make him over. 

As knowledge increased by the labor of 
scholars, it was discovered that Chaucer 
had not been understood, had not been cor- 
rectly read, had not been appreciated. A 
new school of poetry, the school that cared 
less for conventions, and looked more to 
nature than to classic models, found Chau- 
cer anew. Southey said: "Chaucer stands 
in the first rank with Spenser, Shakespeare, 
and Milton; and in variety of power 
Shakespeare is his only peer." Coleridge, 

Poets' Testimony 

Scott, Campbell, likewise praised him In 
terms Indicating either their own admira- 
tion or the estimation in which he was held 
by scholars of their time. Mary Russell 
MItford wrote: "Two or three of his 
'Canterbury Tales' and some select pas- 
sages from his other productions are worth 
all the age of Queen Anne, our Augustan 
age, as It has been called, ever produced." 
Fortunately, readers of Chaucer are now 
so many that there is little need to quote 
authorities to establish his right place In 
our literature. The mystery and strange- 
ness that once hung about his poems has 
been cleared away. He is read even by 
schoolboys and girls; he can be read, with 
little difficulty, by any who have learned 
his charm, and collections of his works in 
cheap and excellent editions can be found 
everywhere. If we quote a few more ex- 
tracts in his praise. It is done to encourage 
readers by showing what they have to gain 
by learning to know Chaucer thoroughly. 

In the Days of Chaucer 

Tennyson, In his "Dream of Fair 
Women," begins by acknowledging his 
Indebtedness to Chaucer in these stanzas: 

*^ I read, before my eyelids dropped their shade, 
' The Legend of Good Women y long ago 
Sung by the morning star of song, who made 
His music heard below. 

Dan Chaucer, the first warbler, whose sweet breath 
Preluded those melodious bursts that fill 

The spacious times of great Elizabeth 
With sounds that echo still.'* 

Then, from Lowell: "Chaucer seems 
to me to have been one of the most orig- 
inal of poets, as much so in respect of the 
world about us as Dante in respect of that 
which is within us. There had been noth- 
ing like him before, there has been nothing 
since. . . . He sets before us the 
world as it honestly appeared to Geoffrey 
Chaucer, and not a world as it seemed 
proper to certain people that it ought to 
appear." "If character may be divined 
from works, he was a good man, genial, 

Poets' Testimony 

sincere, hearty, temperate of mind. . . . 
We love him more even than we admire." 
From Longfellow: 

'* He is the poet of the dawn, who wrote 
The Canterbury Tales, and his old age 
Made beautiful with song; and as I read 
I hear the crowing of the cock, I hear the note 
Of lark and linnet, and from every page 
Rise odors of ploughed field or flowery mead.*' 

From Scott's "Rokeby:" 

** Oh, for that pencil, erst profuse 
Of chivalry's emblazoned hues. 
That traced of old, in Woodstock bower, 
The pageant of the Leaf and Flower, 
And bodied forth the tourney high 
Held for the hand of Emily, 
Then might I paint the tumult broad 
That to the crowded abbey flowed." 

Mrs. Browning, in her "Book of the 
Poets," from which has already been 
taken a quotation about the "Canterbury 
Tales," thus speaks of their author: "He 
is a king, and inherits the earth, and ex- 

In the Days of Chaucer 

pands his great soul smilingly to embrace 
his great heritage. Nothing is too high 
for him to touch with a thought, nothing 
too low to dower with an affection. . . . 
not one of the Queen Anne's men meas- 
uring out tuneful breath upon their fingers 
did know the art of versification as the old 
rude Chaucer knew it." And she then ex- 
plains that the word "rude" is used for 
the "picturesqueness of the epithet." 

From William Hazlitt we might quote 
many passages; but one will show his gen- 
eral estimate: "The four greatest names 
in English poetry are almost the first four 
we come to — Chaucer, Spenser, Shake- 
speare, Milton. There are no others that 
can really be put into competition with 
these. . . . Chaucer excels as the poet 
of manners or real life; Spenser as the poet 
of romance; Shakespeare as the poet of 
nature (in the largest use of the term) ; 
and Milton as the poet of morality." 
"Chaucer was himself a noble, manly 

Poets' Testimony 

character, standing before his age and 
striving to advance It; a pleasant humor- 
ist, withal, who has not only handed down 
to us the living manners of his time, but 
. . . would make as hearty a companion 
as Mine Host of the Tabard." 

Stedman, in a brief summary, says : *'At 
the outset of English poetry, Chaucer's 
Imagination is sane, clear-sighted, whole- 
some, with open-air feeling and truth to 
life," and in a recent poem, "Ye Tombe of 
ye Poet Chaucer," named from a placard 
he saw on the monument, Stedman depicts 
the quiet rest of the great poet during the 
ages, and ends with these stanzas: 

'* And now, when hawthorn is in flower. 
And throstles sing as once sang he. 
In this last age on pilgrimage 

Like mine, from lands that distant be. 
Come youths and maidens, summer free, 
Where shades of bards and warriors dwell. 
And say, * The sire of minstrelsy 
Here slumbers well.' 


In the Days of Chaucer 

And say, < While London's Abbey stands. 

No less shall England's strength endure!' 
Ay, though its old wall crumbling fall 

Shall last her song's sweet overture; 

Some purling stream shall flow, be sure. 
From out the ivied heap, to tell 

That here the fount of English pure 
Long slumbered well." 




As we consider this land of poetry into 
which we have entered to make acquaint- 
ance with Geoffrey Chaucer, shall we not 
look about us to some of its more distant 
regions? For the men of his time Chaucer 
dwelt in old London on the Thames, ended 
his life there and lies buried somewhere in 
the shadow of the Abbey. 

But for us he is one of the immortal cit- 
izens of that Arcadia the gateways to 
which are ever open at our wish, and he is 
one of those who have made it a land of 
perpetual delights. We may, if we choose, 
pass from our converse with him and his 
self-created company to those whom Chau- 
cer found already in that enchanted realm 
when he entered there. 

In the Days of Chaucer 

We may draw near to the group that 
ever Hngers around bhnd Homer and hear 
his songs of the days that were twenty cen- 
turies in the past long before Chaucer's 
boyish fingers were taught to shape the 
alphabet, and may see again the exploits 
of those heroes whose swords will never 
cease to flash in the flames of the Trojan 
citadel, or may wander with wise old 
Ulysses over land and sea, observing the 
manners and men of his little world, and 
then may rejoice with him when he stands 
at last with his back to his own portal and 
sends those avenging arrows among the 
thronged suitors. 

Unless we are scholarly enough to be 
attracted to the obscure grove in which 
Heslod Is telling of old myths, and giving 
good advice to husbandmen, we shall be 
next drawn to where Virgil is echoing in 
his own polished words the accents of Ho- 
mer, and shall here renew our friendship 
with him who exiled by fate came to La- 

In Arcady 

tium and reared the city on the Seven Hills, 
losing by the way that poor Creiisa, and 
shall visit in his company the rising walls 
of Rome's future rival and victim, and 
mourn over poor Dido's funeral pyre, as 
the ships of her faithless lover sink below 
the horizon. 

Leaving Virgil with the sweetness of his 
verse still In our memory, we shall not 
have far to go before finding ourselves in 
the company of the solemn Florentine to 
whom the Roman poet was alike teacher, 
guide and magician. And with Dante, we 
shall hardly remain in contact with the 
earth, but shall pass in visionary flight 
from the deepest depths of the Inferno to 
the higher circle of the seventh heaven. 

But the vision shall be more than real- 
ity, and the divine Beatrice, the gracious 
Virgil, and the serene Dante shall come 
nearer to the soul than do the living men 
about us in our daily life. Dazed with the 
marvel of it all, wondering even when we 

In the Days of Chaucer 

but half understand, there is yet a mystery 
of unrest besetting us, and we have a sense 
of relief upon reaching firm earth again. 

After the sojourn with the celestial com- 
panions of Dante, there is a touch of hu- 
manity even in the high-strung sonnets of 
Petrarch, and Laura is more approachable 
than the spiritual Beatrice in her saintly 
robes; indeed, except for the moments 
with the romantic Petrarch, we could hard- 
ly go on to the merry company that sits in 
a ring upon the lawn of an Italian villa lis- 
tening to the perfect prose and easy verse 
of shrewd, delightful Boccaccio, as he re- 
tells with new graces the stories of a ruder 

Not far away now is our starting point, 
where, within hearing of the Latins and 
Italians, and yet distinctly apart from 
them, we see Chaucer reading his musical 
lines, grave and gay by turns, to the richly 
dressed knights and ladies of King Ed- 
ward's court. There is at times close re- 

In Arcady 

semblance In his tone and manner to his 
Italian friends; and yet by a transition so 
sudden that we wonder afterward that 
there Is no abruptness In the change, we 
hear a different note, and are conscious of 
listening to a voice that Is English above 
all, so English that every drop of blood In 
our veins tingles with a response that, de- 
spite our awe, Dante never awakened; and 
we feel the vibration of chords Petjrarch 
left untouched. We know Chaucer to be 
akin to us, and ourselves to be his children. 
We have now first heard the English ac- 
cent, and shall know the twang of It upon 
the tongue of every bard hereafter. In 
whatever key they may choose to sing. 

Here Is another group, not far away, 
listening to the fairy tales of Edmund 
Spenser, tales made the more unreal and 
believable because of his affectation of an 
antique accent — an accent that never was 
on sea or land, but seems fitted to the re- 
gions of enchantment he has conjured up 

In the Days of Chaucer 

for us. We have passed many a singer and 
teller of tales, but we must pause for a 
moment at least with the courteous and 
learned Sidney, since he is a friend none 
would willingly lose, and his brave words 
in defence of poesy have won our grati- 
tude and our allegiance. So we rest awhile 
in his haunt of shepherds and shepherd- 
esses, though we know that these person- 
ages are not real, like those whom Chaucer 
has created for us. These of Sidney's are 
but dainty masqueraders, and their lan- 
guage is to our ears as unreal as them- 

We find ourselves now in a crowded 
part of Arcadia. We can hardly give 
more than a happy glance of recognition 
to the many noble figures that are moving 
about us — to Chapman, who has caught 
something of Homer's bearing ; to Raleigh, 
whose brief words are so delightful we 
grudge him to the outer world and wish 
him all Arcadian; to Kit Marlowe, a 

In Arcady 

sturdy, independent figure, who at times 
has the tone and port of the greatest Ar- 
cadian of all; to Herrick, who seems to 
walk a little apart in a cosy happiness all 
his own; to Beaumont and Fletcher, arm- 
in-arm ; to Ben Jonson, who wins a respect 
awarded to few of his companions. 

But In an open space where none dare 
come within his radius Is the Prince of the 
whole kingdom. No need has he of dig- 
nified bearing, of distance, of claim to def- 
erence. He Is upon his own territory wher- 
ever his steps take him, and he wanders at 
will, consorting with high or low, the sol- 
emn or the gay, and yet reigns without 
self-consciousness the monarch of them all 
save Father Homer, the Divine Dante, 
and old iEschylus. And yet, though he 
speaks with the very tongue of inspiration 
upon every topic under the sun — the man 
remains unknown. He is the epitome of 
the drama, and speaks every man's 
thoughts but his own. One can approach 


In the Days of Chaucer 

nearer even to Dante, Homer, to ^^schy- 
lus himself, than to this sprite, Shake- 
speare. He will jest with you, weep with 
you, pray with you, but he will not be 
intimate with any, nor tell his inmost 
thoughts save in puzzles none may read. 
Reading all men through and through, he 
remains impenetrable, wearing ever either 
the tragic or the comic mask. Striding in 
cothurnus or capering in buskin, he will 
have no partner by his side. 

We do not know all Dante thinks, but 
we know his cast of mind. With Shake- 
speare we can no more predict than with 
his own Will-o'-the-Wisp. Over bog, over 
mire he leads us, and then vanishes, leav- 
ing us to flounder out. Yet such is the 
fascination of the man that we are ever 
ready at his call, and once near him fall 
under his spell until he chooses to set us 
free. Of only one thing are we sure. He 
is English — as English as Chaucer, and as 
much akin to us. 


In Arcady 

Where shall we turn from this magician 
of the stage? We shall least feel his 
loss as he passes on, if we do reverence to 
the Puritan Poet — the mighty Milton, in 
whose sublimity and sweet serenity we shall 
rest after the mocking moods of his great 

It is as if after a day when nature has in 
her most capricious mood displayed all her 
power of storm and tempest, of gorgeous 
skies and soothing calm, we had passed 
into the calmness and peace of serene, un- 
troubled sunlight. With less of force and 
beauty there is still the sense of sublimity. 
So in Milton we find a charm that even 
Shakespeare cannot give, a simple gran- 
deur learned of the Hebrew prophets, for 
they, too, though more remote, are here, 
and have taught the secret of power to 
many later comers in the universal land of 

Amid the Innumerable hosts about us 
wherever we turn our eyes, are those with 

In the Days of Chaucer 

whom we should love to pause; and, once 
under their spell, it is hard to turn away. 
Were we French, we should by no means 
be drawn from broad-browed, twinkling- 
eyed Moliere, but should believe him fit 
companion for any. Were we German, 
we should long since have been under the 
spell of Dr. Faustus, or ranging free wher- 
ever the wandering Goethe might choose 
to lead us. Spanish, we should hear for 
the hundredth time the woful comicalities 
of Don Quixote or rejoice in the homely 
wisdom of his squire Sancho. But these 
for another day. Now we will remember 
that we are of the English tongue, and 
shall make acquaintance only with our 

Even for that, the time is too brief. In- 
spired by the words of their elder brothers, 
how many are speaking the true language 
of Arcadia! Here is big John Dryden, 
and here is little Alexander Pope, amazing 
us so with their assured skill that we won- 

In Arcady 

der whether we are right in wishing they 
were a little less self-conscious and had 
more of the simplicity Chaucer taught us 
to admire. Here is Wordsworth, one mo- 
ment inspired, the next beating time to 
mere prose. Here are Cowper, Gray, 
Keats, Shelley, ready to repay richly the 
time we give them, and each with a voice 
all his own. Here is Lord Byron, so care- 
less of his great power, turning into poetry 
all he may say, yet offending as often as he 
pleases; and here we may hearken to" the 
weird story of the Ancient Mariner or the 
music of Christabel until the voice of Cole- 
ridge dies away in mystical words of which 
none knows the meaning. There is relief 
in coming from these abstractions to the 
wholesome presence of the sturdy Sir Wal- 
ter Scott. While with him we shall not re- 
gret for a moment that we are not else- 
where, but shall roam in the romantic hills 
of Scotland, breathing the fresh outdoor 
air or shall by the magic of his wand see 

In the Days of Chaucer 

again the pageantry of past ages come to 
life. Is it history? It is something truer 
than any history, it is great poetry, and 
truer than truth. 

But it is not verse, and when Scott 
ceases to sing his ballads that stir us as 
Chevy Chase stirred Sidney, we must leave 
him among the prose-poets, with Bunyan, 
Defoe, Swift, with Fielding, Dickens, 
Thackeray, whom our age has persuaded 
to make stories rather than verses — and 
turn to the Peasant Poet of his own land 
though we retrace our steps that we may 
hear of the Cotter's Saturday Night, Tam 
O'Shanter's thrilling escape from the 
clutching hand of the witch, or the merry 
makings of All Hallowe'en. 

We are too near our own day. The 
poets begin to assume to us a reality that 
has about it too much of earth to savor 
wholly of Arcadia. Not yet can we see 
Poe, the Brownings, Tennyson, Longfel- 
low, Lowell, apart from the personality 

In Arcady 

that embodied their spirits in the world of 
every day, and so not yet can they be to 
us true Arcadians, though in each there is 
that voice of the immortal land which as- 
sures us they will abide forever with the 
dwellers therein. 

In our own new world, in America, 
there has been at least sufficient assurance 
that the heritage of poesy has not been 
withheld from us. As we have given our 
homage to the royal line of poets, and 
have been glad to acknowledge ourselves 
loyal subjects of this race of kings and 
prophets, we hope one day to find in their 
company some of our own countrymen 
who may be not unworthy to dwell with 
the poets and masters of the same mother- 

But, as we have seen, the torch of poetic 
utterance passes from hand to hand down 
the ages, and the greatest torch-bearers do 
not disdain to receive one from another the 
/ight of learning, and sedulously to cherish 

In the Days of Chaucer 

the flame until It can be passed on for the 
enlightenment of later times. 

From Homer to Virgil, Virgil to Dante, 
Dante to Petrarch, Petrarch to Chaucer 
came the light of other days ; and from the 
hands of Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, 
Milton comes the glowing brightness that 
makes our homes beautiful, and warms the 
hearts of all who speak the English tongue. 

While it may not lie in our power to 
add a ray to the brightness, we all may 
cherish the names and the memory of these 
benefactors of the race — the creators of 
that land where we may at will enter and 
hold converse with the greatest men of all 

To none of these do we of the English- 
speaking races owe more than to the poet 
of our dawn — to Geoffrey Chaucer. 










Birth of Chaucer. 

Battles of Neville's 

Cross and Crecy. 
Siege of Calais. 


Death of Robert Chaucer 

The Black Death. 


Founding of Order of 
the Garter. 


Marriage of Lionel to 
Elizabeth de Burgh. 


War with France and 
with Scots. 


Battle of Poitiers. 


Chaucer a page to Eliza- 
beth de Burgh. 


The French "Jac- 


Chaucer a soldier. 

Invasion of France. 

" Romaunt of 


Captured and ransomed. 

the Rose," 


Chaucer enters the king's 

" Chaucer's 


A. B. C." 


Langland's "Piers 

(both before 



Death of EUzabeth de 


English used in legal 



Building of Windsor 


" Period of French In- 

Birth of Richard II. 


Esquire to the king. 
Marriage to PhiUppa. 
PhiHppa pensioned. 
Death of his father. 


Life pension granted. 

Founding of the 
Kremlin, Moscow. 

Remarriage of his mother. 

Black Prince's cam- 
paign in Spain. 








Chaucer in second French 

Death of Blanche and 

" Book of the 


of Queen Philippa. 
Birth of John Huss. 




Diplomatic journeys. 

imto Pity." 


The Charter House 



Chaucer in Italy. 

Winchester School 

Part of 


" Clerk's Tale" 


Period of " Italian Influ- 

and "Palamon 


and Arcite." 

Comptroller of Customs. 

Tournament at Smith- 

Leased Aldgate house. 


'•' Complaint to 

Grant of wine. 

his Lady." 


Becomes guardian to one 

French pro\'inces lost. 

On secret service abroad. 

Death of Black Prince. 
"The Bruce " by 


Missions to Flanders and 
to France. 

Death of Edward in. 


Missions to France and 

Accession Richard II. 

" Boethius " 




"Troilus and 


" Complaint of 



More serious writing be- 

Birth of Thomas i 



Chaumpaigne affair. 

Foreign monks ex- 
Wat Tyler's rebellion. 


His son Lewis bom. 




Comptroller " Petty Cus- 

Wvcliffe Bible fin- 



Marriage Richard II. 



Death of Wycliffe. 

"House of 


Gave up Aldgate house. 

Allowed a deputy to assist 

Richard II burns 

" Legend of 



Good Women." 


Lived at Greenwich. 
Knight of Shire for Kent, 
and sits in Parliament. 

Battle of Sempach. 

Testifies in Scrope and 

Begins the 

Grosvenor trial. 


Loses his offices. 



Death of his wife. 

Richard II returns to 

" Canterbury 




Pledges pensions. 

Insurrection against 


(Nuns' Tale 

The Barons seize 

and Man of 

Tower of London. 

Law's Tale 

Period of " Mature Pow- 

Battle of "Chevy 

existed before 



in some form ; 

Birth of Henry V. 

also part of 


Clerk of works at Win- 

Richard II regains 

Knight's Tale, 



probably. ) 








Repairing banks of 
Thames. Twice robbed. 
Made forester. 



Loses positions as clerk. 

'* Treatise on 



" Envoy to 


Pension granted. 

Death of Queen 



Richard II marries 

" Envoy to 




Sole forester. 

Sued for debt. 

Richard abdicates. 

Grant of wine. 

Shakespeare's " Rich- 
ard 11 " begins its 
action here. 


Leases a house at West- 

Henry IV on throne. 

" Complaint to 


his Purse." 

Receives new pensions. 


Death of Chaucer. 

Death of Richard II. 
Birth of John Guten- 
Persecution of Wyc- 

140 1 

Death of Froissart. 





From the Norman Conquest to Beginning of 
Printing in England. 


The Saxon Chronicle, by the Monks of Peter- 

Fragments — such as "Canute's Song," by 
Thomas of Ely; the "Prophecy of Here," 
the "Hymn of St. Godric." 


Layamon's "Brut" — The Ormulum Chron- 
icles in verse — Legend of St. Catherine — 
Homily of St. Edmund — Address of the 
Soul to the Body — The "Owle and the 
Nightingale," Ballad on the Battle of Lewes 
— English Romances; "Havelok," "King 
Horn," "King Alexander," "Richard I," 
"Guy of WarAvick," Life of St. Brandon — 
Martyrdom of a Becket. 


Chronicles, Robert of Gloucester, Robert of 
Brunne; Popular Ballads, "Robin Hood," 
"Willy Grice " "Summer is i-cumen in " 
— Poems of Lav/rence Minot — Barbour's 
"Bruce" — Langland's "Vision de Piers 
Plowman" — Gower — Froissart's Chronicles 
— Chaucer — WickiifFe. 
Italian Authors: Dante, 1265-1321; Pe- 
trarch, 1304-1374; Boccaccio, 1313--1375. 



The Globe Chaucer. Macmillan & Co., 
1903. Complete, with life, introductions, 
notes, glossary. 

The Student's Chaucer, Oxford Press, 1897. 
Complete, with life, an introduction, glossary. 
Either of these is cheap and good, the first 
being more recent and having more helps to 
the reader. If a more expensive edition is 
wanted, buy Skeat's or Morris's six-volume 

The Canterbury Tales, 2 vols. Edited by 

The Prologue, Knight's Tale, and Nuns' 
Priest's Tale, in the Riverside Literature 
Series, for young readers, in one volume, 
bound in linen, 40 cents. 

The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, 
The Knightes Tale, The Nonnes Prestes 
Tale. Edited in Critical Text, with Gram- 
matical Introduction (being an Elementary 
Grammar of Middle English), Notes and 
Glossary, by Mark H. Liddell. Macmillan 

Selections from Chaucer's Canterbury 
Tales. Edited, with Introduction, Notes 
and Glossary, by Hiram Corson, Professor in 
Cornell University. Macmillan & Co. 



The Minor Poems, edited by Skeat, Oxford 

Riverside Chaucer, 3 vols., edited by Pro- 
fessors Child, Lowell and Norton. Hough- 
ton, Mifflin & Co. 


Studies in Chaucer, Professor Thomas R. 
Lounsbury. 3 vols. Harper & Bros. A 
complete and exhaustive critical study of the 
life and the v^ritings, v^ith citation of refer- 
ences. Very full and good on all doubtful 
questions, and written in most readable style. 

My Study Windows. Lowell. Containing 
a charming essay on Chaucer. Houghton, 
Mifflin & Co. 

Chaucer's England Matthew Browne 2 
^ vols. A study of the times of the poet. Illus- 
trated with a few old cuts. A good picture 
of the England of Edward HL Hurst and 
Blackett (1869). 

^Medieval England. Bateson. G. P. Put- 
nam's Sons (1904). 

Dictionary of National Biography, ''Chau- 
cer." Macmillan & Co. 

Chaucer Primer. Pollard. 

Life, in English Men of Letters Series, by Ward. 

Social England. Traill. (Vol. U.) 

[jSreen's History of the English People. 



Castle Life in the Middle Ages. Blashfield. 
Scribner's Magazine, Vol. V. See also "The 
Man at Arms," Vol. III. 

History of the Church of England. Wake- 
man. Rivingtons (1899). 

English Literature. Taine. 

Amenities of Literature. Disraeli. 

Phra, the Phenician. Arnold. Contains 
a vivid picture of life under Edward IIL 

The Riches of Chaucer. Charles Cowden 
Clarke. An expurgated selection of the 
poems, with a life of Chaucer full of statements 
now discredited. 

Cabinet Pictures of English Life, ''Chau- 
cer," Saunders, 1845. I have not examined 
this book, but find it mentioned. 

Library of Literary Criticism, ** Chaucer" — 
Moulton Publishing Co. 

Publications of The Chaucer Society. Be- 
sides these may be mentioned Ten Brink's 
scholarly studies on Chaucer (Henry Holt 
& Co.), Tyrwhitt's edition of the works, 
with notes and glossary (Appleton), the 
Bohn edition, and a cheap edition published 
by T. Y. Crowell, in one volume. 

The student who will buy the "Globe Chau- 
cer" will have enough to begin with, and by add- 
ing to this Professor Lounsbury's "Studies in 
Chaucer," he will be able to make a thorough 
study of the poet and his works. 




Few points can be certainly fixed, but the 
following route includes the points mentioned 
by Chaucer. 

From the Tabard Inn (some call it Talbot 
Inn) in High Street, Southwark, of which until 
1875 there were traces, they rode out southeast- 
erly, and upon reaching the "Watering of St 
Thomas'' (mentioned in line 826 of the Prologue 
to the Tales) the Host drew up and proposed 
that the telling of tales should begin. Possibly 
this was the old site of St. Thomas's Hospital, 
where now stands the Southeastern Railway. 

No place is named thereafter until they are 
in sight of Deptford ("Depeford") and Green- 
wich, as mentioned in the Prologue to the Reeve's 
Tale. (Distance, 5 miles.) It was half-past 
seven in the morning ("half-way prime"). 
Thence, passing either near Woolwich and 
Plumstead, or by way of Greenwich Park, over 
Black Heath, Shooter's Hill, and Wellen to 
Grayford, they came to Dartford (16 miles), 
where many pilgrims were accustomed to stay 
over night; but Chaucer's party may have rid- 
den on by Gravesend, where is Falstaff's Gad's 
Hill, and Dickens's home, then possibly by 
Pett Street, Chalk Street, Petticoat Lane, Hig- 
ham and Stroud, they reach the town of Roch- 
ester (30 miles), the next place mentioned. 
The Prologue to the Monk's Tale, line 31 16 



says. *'Lo, Rochester stands here fast-by.'* 
Rochester was another usual place for break- 
ing the journey; but these pilgrims may have 
gone on, by Shilowham, Marestreet and Key- 
street, to halt at Sitting-bourne (41 miles), 
which the antiquary Camden notes as "a place 
well stored with inns." The Prologue to the 
Wife's Tale mentions "Sidingborne" as yet 
some distance ahead. 

By Radfield and Green Street the road next 
reaches Faversham, and then we come to the 
next town named by Chaucer, Boughton-under- 
Blean ("Boughton under Blee") (50 miles). 
Here the Canon and his Yeoman overtook them, 
as is told in the opening lines of the Canon 
Yeoman's Prologue (line 556). After the Yeo- 
man's story, the Manciple's Prologue refers to 
*'a little town which that y-cleped is Bob-up- 
and-Down, under the Blee in Canterbury way." 
This has not been identified. The ''Globe Chau- 
cer" suggests Harbledown, or "Up and Down" 
(" Camden's Britannia " gives " Underdown "), 
a field in Thannington parish, as the place 
meant; and says '' the Blee " is Blean forest. 

The road hence to Canterbury might pass 
through Marbledown, St. Dunstan's Street, and 
Westgate to the Cathedral and the shrine — that 
bejewelled structure from which Henry VHI. 
carried such enormous treasure. 

Between Rochester and Canterbury pilgrims 
sometimes halted at Ospringe, where traces of 
an old ''Pilgrim House" still exist, as mentioned 
in the "Globe Chaucer" (1903). 


The reader is again cautioned that, except for 
the places Chaucer names, the route is uncertain, 
for five centuries make great changes. Yet the 
ancient WatUng Street ran from London to 
Canterbury on its way to Dover, and was no 
doubt built with all the permanence of the 
Roman military roads, and as directly; so the 
route was likely to follow its general line at least. 

The whole journey was about fifty-six miles, 
and it is thought Chaucer meant his party to be 
four days in the pilgrimage, though this was not 
rapid travelling. 


The following poems long attributed to 
Chaucer are now considered to be by other 

Merciless Beauty. — Doubtful. 

Orison to the Holy Virgin. — Doubtful. 

The Former Age — Doubtful. 

Testament and Complaint of Cressida. 

A Goodly Ballade of Chaucer. 

The Flower of Courtesy, with a ballade. 

La Belle Dame Sans Mercy. 

The Assembly of Ladies. 

The Complaint of the Black Knight (or, of a 

Lover's Life). 
A Praise of Woman. 
The Testament of Love. 
The Lamentation of Mary Magdalen. 
The Remedy of Love. 



The Letter of Cupid. 

A Ballade in Commendation of Our Lady. 

The Cuckoo and the Nightingale. 

*'Go forth, king, rule thee by Sapience." (No 

" Consider well every circumstance." (No title.) 
Eight Goodly Questions with their Answers. 
To the King's Most Noble Grace. 
*'When faith faileth in priestes' saws." (No 

"It faileth for a gentleman." (No title.) 
** It Cometh by kind of gentle blood." (No title.) 
The Plowman's Tale. 
Balade de Bon Consail. 

A Proverb against Covetise and Negligence. 
Against Women Unconstant. 
In Dispraise of Women for their Doubleness. 
The Craft of Lovers. 

"Of their nature they greatly then delight." 
The Ten Commandments of Love. 
The Nine Ladies Worthy. 
"Alone walking." (No title.) 
"In the Season of Feverere." (First line.) 
"O merciful and O merciable." (First line.) 
"Son of Priamus, gentle Paris of Troy." (First 

"I have a lady whereso she be." (First line.) 
"O mossy Quince, hanging by your stalk." 

(First line.) 
"Look well about, ye that Lovers be." (First 

"In Womanhead as authors all write." (First 




The Court of Love. 

Chaucer's Dream. 

The Flower and the Leaf. 

Jacke Upland. 

The Tale of Gamelin. 

The Merry Adventures of the Pardoner and 

The Merchant's Second Tale. 
"The world so wild, the air so remunable." 
*'The more I go the farther I am behind." 

Leaulte Vault Richesse. 
An Amorous Complaint made at Windsor. 

Some critics, also doubt whether the Romance 
of the Rose is the translation made by Chaucer. 
Skeat admits only the first part. For a dis- 
cussion of the whole subject see Lounsbury's 
*' Studies," and a note in the preface to the 
^' Globe Chaucer." 



"A. B. C," Chaucer's, 159 

a Becket shrine, 177 

"Adam Scrivener, To," 238 

^schylus, 274 

Aldgate residence, 91, 135 

amusements, 8, 19, 20, 21, 22 

Anne of Bohemia, 166 

animals, size of, 3 

"Apologie for Poetrie," Sidney, 25 

"Arabian Nights," 176, 188 

Arcady, the Poets in. Chap. XVI 

archery, 63 -^ 

Arcite, as page, 42, 43 

Arthur, King, legends of, 50 

Ball, John, the "mad priest," 113, 132 

Barbour, John, Scotch poet, 112 

Barklay, 227 

Beaumont and Fletcher, 273 

Bible, Chaucer's knowledge of, 146 

Bible, Wyclifife's, 108 

"Big Ferre," French peasant, 57 

Birth of Chaucer, 10, 11, 13 

"Black Death," 30 

blackletter editions of Chaucer, 235 

Black Prince, 34, 49 

Blanche, the Duchess, 94 

Boccaccio, 50, 143, 144, 168, 176, 183, 270 

Decameron, 176 
Boethius, 141, 167 

"Consolations of Philosophy," 166 
"Book of the Duchess," 94, 106, 160-163 
books Chaucer read, 49 
Borrou, Robert de, 61 



Bretigny, Peace of, 59 

Browne, Matthew, "Chaucer's England," 179, 180, 

Browning, Mrs., 212, 259, 263 
Brownings, the, 278 
Brune, Robert de, 50 
"Brut d'Angleterre," 50 
Bunyan, John, 159 
Burgh, de, Elizabeth, 2>Z, 35 
Burke, on chivalry, 125 
Bury, Richard de, 48 
Byron, 277 

Campbell, 261 

"Canterbury Tales," 175, 202 

Bailly, Harvey, "Mine Host," lOi, 102, 180, 182, 
193, 197, 205 

Canon Yeoman' e Tale, 200 

Caxton's edition. 233, 234 

Chaucer described, loi, 190 

chivalry in, 124 

Clerk's Tale, 199 

Cook's Tale, 186, 201 

Doctor of Physic's Tale, 107, 196 

Friar's Tale, 198 

"Host, Mine," loi, 102, 180, 182, 193, 197, 205 

Knight, the, 182 

Knight's Tale, 42, 43, 182 

manuscripts, 241 

Man of Law's Tale, 163, 187 

Melibeus, Tale of, 192 

Merchant's Tale, 199, 200 

Monk's Tale, 163, 194 

Nuns' Priest's Tale, 195 

parson described, 203 

Parson's Tale, 200 

Pardoner's Tale, 197 

Pilgrims, the, 177, 207, 213 

Prioress's Tale, 190 

reality of the Tales, 202 

Reeve's Tale, 186 

Rhyme of Sir Thomas, 190 

Second Nun's Tale, 199, 200 

Shipman's Tale, 189 

Squire's Tale, 199 

Story of Gamelin, 201 



"Canterbury Tales," Summoner's Tale, 199 
Tyrwhitt edition, 235 
Wife of Bath's Tale, 198 

caste, 7, 40, 114, 179 

castle, life in feudal, 44 

Caxton, first English printer, 232 

Cervantes, 276 

Chapel, St. George, Windsor, 89 

Chatterton, 245 

Chaucer, Geoffrey, 

birth, ID, II, 13; name, 15; education, 17; home, 
26; poet of the court, 31; a page, 33; earliest 
records, 34; duties, 3(S-5o; reading aloud, 48; 
earnings, 51; to France, 54; captured, 55; ran- 
somed, 59; army life, 65; return to England, 66; 
valet, 68; marriage, 69; coat-of-arms, 70; cus- 
toms-officer, 72; salary, 72; business life, 75; 
abroad, 76; pension, yy; income, 78; commis- 
sioneir, 78; comptroller, 90; at Aldgate, 91; mar- 
ried life, 94-98; his appearance, 99, loi, 190; 
love of reading, 103 ; indifference to events, 
108-110; on clergy, 118, 120; on chivalry, 127; 
clerkships, 127; forester, 127; arranges lists, 128, 
134; robbed, 129; Chaumpagne affair, 129; bus- 
iness life, 131; as reformer, 133; to Greenwich, 
135; a city man, 137; his documents missing, 
138; sources of poems, 141; Italian influence, 
142; his reading, 146; his services to literature, 
149; breadth, 151; character as poet, 152, 153; 
humor, 154; attitude to times, 155; changes in 
style, 156; works described, 157, etc.; "Canter- 
bury Tales," 175; death, 214; monument, 214; 
portraits, 223; influence on Scotch, 224; on lan- 
guage, 224; merit of his work, 225; times of 
least and most reputation, 226-229; opinions 
on. Chap. XV 

Chaucer in Arcady, 270 

Chaucer, John (the father), 13, 14, 25, 26 
Lewis (son), 105 
Philippa (wife), 69, 94, 98 
Robert (grandfather), 15 
Thomas (son), 69, 70, 106, 128 

"Chaucer's England" (Browne), 17, 179, 180, 207 

Chaucer Society, 236 

Chaumpagne affair, 129 

Child, Prof., of Harvard, 22,6 



chimneys, 5, 45 

chivalry, 41, 48, no, 121, 123, 125 

four ideals of, 126 
chronology of poems and life, see Appendix 
church, 7, no, 114, 115 
classes, see "caste" 
clergy, Chaucer on the, 189 
clock at Westminster, 89 
coal, 5 

Coleridge, 261, 277 
commissioner, Chaucer as^ 78 
Compiegne, 34 
"Complaint of Mars," 165 
Compton, Agnes (Chaucer's mother), 27 

Hamo de (Chaucer's grandfather), 27 
"Confessio Amantis," Gower's, 219 
"Consolations of Philosophy," Boethius, 166 
costume, 3, 4, 47, 62,, 82 
' Cowper, 277 
Crecy, 62,, 64 

"Dan" as title, 253 
Dante, 143, 262, 269 
de Burgh, Elizabeth, ^z, 35 
"Defense of Poesie," Sidney, 251 
dinner customs, 41, 85 
"Disraeli, Isaac, quoted, 221 
Dowgate Hill, 14 
dress, see costume 
drinks, 39 
-^^ryden, 2^9, 255, 276 

education, Chaucer's, 17, 32, 245 

Edward III, 12, 48, 106, 149 

Elizabeth de Burgh ("of Ulster"), 33, 35 

England in Chaucer's time, 2 

"Envoy to Bukton," 198 

events possibly witnessed by Chaucer, 67 

"Faerie Queene," Spenser, 126 
false statements about Chaucer, 244 
farming. 83 
feudal customs, 51, 60 

households, 36, 2>7' 44 
foreign journeys by Chaucer, yy, 79 



France, Chaucer in, 53, 75 

Edward III invades, 53, 76 

state of, 53 
France, King of; John, 34, 52 
Freeman on chivalry, 125 
French influence on Chaucer, 156 
French naval exploits, 131 

literature, 61 
friars, the, 119 
Froissart, 56, 78, 84, 134, 240 

games, 8, 19, 20, 2^ 

Gaunt, John of, yy 

Gay, 257 

geography, mediaeval, 149 

Gesenius, 236 

"gestes" parodied, 191 

Gibbon quoted, 167 

Godwin (editor), 243 

Goethe, 276 

Gower, 113, 215, 217, 218, 220 

Gray, 277 

Green, John Richard, quoted, z^j 132, 135, 226 

Hall of Westminster, 89 

Harris, Sir Nicholas, 244 

Harrison, Frederic, 88 

Hawes, 227 

hawking, 45, 56 

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, on poet's fame, 248 

Hazlitt, William, 264 

Hebrew prophets, 268 

Hesiod, 268 

Heywood, 227 

"History of English People," see "Green" 

"History of the War of Troy," 50 

Henry VH. 69 

Hoccleve, see "Occleve" 

holidays, 24, 74 

Homer, 268 

"Host, Mine," see "Canterbury Tales" 

"House of Fame," 98, 104, 169, 170 

houses, material of, 8 

"Hugh of Lincoln," 190 

Hunt, Leigh, 259 

hunting, 56 



ideals of chivalry, 126 

Italian influence on Chaucer, 142 

"Jack Straw," 132 
"Jacquerie," 53 
John, King of France, 124 
Jonson, Ben, 273 
jugglers, 22, 74 

Keats, 277 
knighthood, 47, 62 

see "chivalry" and "Round Table" 
Knights of the Garter, 89 
Knight's Tale, 42, 43, 182 

laborers levied like soldiers, 90 
Lamb, Charles, 104 
Landor quoted, 259 
landscape, appreciation of, 83 
Langland, William, 2^, 112, 140, 218 
language, changes, 4 

Chaucer's influence, 224 

Chaucer's, "obsolete," 258 
Layamon's "Brut," 50 
"Legend of Good Women," 170 
"Legend, The Chaucer," 243, 244 
"Lenvoy to Bukton," 97 
libraries, 33 

"Life of St. Cecilia," 164 

Lionel, Duke of Clarence, 33, 35, 54, 68, 84, 106 
literary English, Chaucer's, 223, 224 
literature of France, 61 
literature, table of, see Appendix 
Lollards, 108, 116, 132 
London, antiquity of, 88 

Bridge, 13, 14 

buildings, 28 

population, 16 

shops, 28 

streets, 5, 23 

Tower of, 88, 91 
Longfellow, 177, 203, 263, 278 
Lounsbury, "Studies in Chaucer," quoted, 77, 96. 

129, 144, 159, 221, 230, 234, 244, 255, 257, 259 
louvre, 44 



Lowell as poet, 278 

Lowell quoted, 113, 141, 142, 143, 174, 200, 207, 224, 

240, 262 
Lydgate, 145, 216, 217, 221, 222 

Mandeville, Sir John, 49 
"Mansus" (Milton's poem), 256 
manuscripts, Chaucer, 241 
Map, Walter (or ]Mapes), 61 
mark, value of English, 27 
^larlowe, 27 

metre, Chaucer's, 239, 263 
Milton, 228, 256, 275 
Minot. Lawrence, iii 
minstrels, 44. 74. 81, 122 
Mitford, Mary Russell, 261 
modern poets, 278 
Moliere, 276 
monasteries, 118, 119 
monks, 117 
musicians, 44, 74, 81, 122 

news, how carried, 6 

Occleve (Hoccleve), 99, 100, 215, 217, 222 
occupations of ladies in feudal castles, 47 

page. Chaucer as a, 36-39 

"Parliament of Fowls," 165, 166 

pastimes, see "sports" 

"Patient Griselda," 199 

Pepys. 255 

Petrarch. 7^, 84. 270 

Philpot defeats pirates, 131 

"Piers Plowman," 2>^, 112, 140, 218 

plague, 94. 107 

see "Black Death" 
Poe, E. K., on metre, 239, 278 
poetry in America, 279 
"Poet's Corner," 215 
poet's fame, 248 
poets-laureate, 107 
poets who win aflfection, 153 
Poictiers. battle, 34. 63 
Pope, Alexander, 229, 257, 2y6 



priests, 117 

see "church" 
Prior, Matthew, 257 
prose, Chaucer's, 192 
prose-poets, 278 
Pynson (editor), 234 

Queen Philippa, 106 
questions unsettled, 246 
quintain, 21 

races blended in England, 9 

rain, phenomenal, 30 

reading aloud, 48 

reading, Chaucer's love of, 103 

Rethel, where Chaucer was captured, 57 

Retiers, see Rethel 

Rheims, siege of, 55 

ribaldry, 201 

Richard II, 134, 166 

roads, condition of, 29 

Rochester, 193 

Roet, Catherine, 69 

Paon, 68 

Philippa, Chaucer's Avife, see Chaucer 
Rolle, Robert, 50 

"Romance of the Rose," 50, 124, 157, 158 
Rossetti, 168 

Round Table, Knights of, 50 
route of Canterbury Pilgrims, see Appendix 

St. Omer, William and Elizabeth, 49 

school-life, 17, 18 

science, Chaucer and, 147 

Scotch poets, followers of Chaucer, 224 

Scott, Sir Walter, 112, 168, 218, 261, 263, 277 

"Seys and Alcyone," 163 

Shakespeare, 65, 71, 107 ; "Richard II," 136 ; 148, 164, 

171, 206; compared with Chaucer, 225, 254, 260, 

Shelley, 277 

shows and spectacles, 22 

Sidney, Sir Philip, 228, 250, 272, 278; "Apologie," 25 
skating, 20 
Skelton, 227 
"solar," 20 



"Song of Roland," 50 

Southey. 260 

Southwark, 181, and see Route of Pilgrims, Appen- 

Spanish naval exploits, 131 

Spenser, Edmund, 228, 250, 252, 253, 271; "Faerie 
Queene," 126 

sports, 8, 19, 20, and see "hawking," "hunting," 
"skating," "wrestling," "games" 

spurious poems, 173, and see list in Appendix 

Stedman, Edmund C, 175, 265 

streets, 5, 23 

Strutt ("English Sports and Pastimes"), 135, and 
under his topics 

"Studies in Chaucer," quoted, see Lounsbury 

Sunday amusements, 25 

Tabard (or Talbot) Inn, 178, 181, and Appendix 

Taine quoted, no, 216 

"Tales of a Wayside Inn," 177; see Longfellow 

tales, ribald, 184, 201 

tapestries, 216 

Ten Brink, 156, 164 

Tennyson, 206, 262 

"Testament of Love" (spurious), 87, 244 

Thurlow, 259 

Thynne (editor), 234 

tilting, 21 

tombstone of Chaucer, 136 

Tottel, 227 

Tower of London, 88, 91 

travel, method of, 80 

tributes to Chaucer, 250 

"Troilus and Criseyde," 124, 168, 238 

Tyrwhitt (editor), 235 

Urry (editor), 235 

Virgil, 269 

"Vision of Piers Plowman," 140 
see Langland 

Wace, Robert, 50 

Wakeman quoted, 120 

Ward quoted, 168, 227 

Wat Tyler Rebellion, 107. 113, 132 




Westminster Abbey, 88, 214 

Hall, 89 
"Wife of Bath," 198, 211 
Windsor Castle, 50, 89 
wine granted to Chaucer,, 77 
winter in the country, 137' 
wool-growing, 90 
Worde, Wynkyn de, 233 
Wordsworth, 259, 277 
wrestling, prize for, 191 
WycHflfe, 108, 116, 132 

"Ye Tombe of Ye Poet Chaucer," Stedman's, 
quoted, 265 

For Chronology, Literature Chart, List of spuri- 
our poems, and Route of the Pilgrims, see Appen- 
dix pages 




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